Animal shelters see waves of Chihuahuas, pit bulls

Media coverage, myths and pop culture — whatever the reason, operators of animal shelters in Burbank and Pasadena say pit bulls and Chihuahuas continue to dominate as the pets most commonly abandoned.

The trend hasn’t let up for several years, prompting exasperation among shelter operators, who’ve been unable to stem the tide. At the Pasadena Humane Society, where spokeswoman Ricky Whitman said the two dog breeds make up 50% of the shelter’s population, administrators plan to offer free bi-weekly spay and neuter clinics for Chihuahua owners.

At an animal welfare conference last month in San Francisco, she said everyone was talking about how to address the flow of abandoned Chihuahuas.

“That seems to be the shelter pet,” Whitman said.

To help reduce the large Chihuahua population at the Pasadena shelter, the society has flown more than 200 of the animals to shelters in Richmond, Va., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., via Delta Airlines since June 2010, she said.

Denise Fleck, president of the Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter, said the large Chihuahua population has a two-fold explanation.

When movies feature certain breeds, their popularity spikes. The late 1990s Taco Bell commercials and the 2008 “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” are partly to blame for the breed’s current popularity, she said.

“When there was ‘101 Dalmatians,’ that dog became trendy and everyone wanted to get one,” she said. “The same thing happened after ‘Air Bud’ with golden retrievers,” Fleck said.

Media coverage of Paris Hilton toting her Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, as if it’s “a new toy or accessory,” doesn’t help, Fleck added.

“It’s a living, breathing creature,” she said. “You have to realize it has needs.”

Some people also assume the small dogs don’t need training, so when they act up, impatient owners return them to the shelter.

“Small dogs are apartment dogs — they’re going to bark, the neighbors are going to complain. They end up at the shelter. That’s what I’m seeing when we hear people are turning them in,” she said.

Pit bulls, which have reputations as being vicious, find second chances hard to come by once they are dropped off at a shelter, operators said.

For more than 10 years, pit bulls — or American Staffordshire Terriers — have been a shelter mainstay, partly due to the fear connected to the breed.

The Oakland-based organization Bad Rap dispels myths about pit bulls. One such animal, named Dan, was sent from the Pasadena shelter to Oakland last week to join others who become ambassadors to the breed, Whitman said.

Dodger, a female pit bull, has remained at the Burbank shelter for seven months.

“We can’t figure out why,” Fleck said.

Pit bulls are strong, she added, so if they’re not trained, “the damage he can do is greater than a Chihuahua.”

“Statistically, you are more likely to get bitten by the cocker spaniel than the pit bull,” Fleck said.

But when pit bulls attack, the incidents make the media. If a Chihuahua bites, she said, “you’re not going to hear about it."

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