Chihuahuas occupying more space at shelters

Chihuahuas are feisty pets that are usually loyal to only one person. The breed is often misunderstood and many are ending up in shelters. | Submitted
Chihuahuas are feisty pets that are usually loyal to only one person. The breed is often misunderstood and many are ending up in shelters. | Submitted

Every dog breed has its time in the spotlight and Chihuahuas have recently had their 15 minutes of fame.

Thanks to the success of movies like “Beverly Hills Chihuahuas” and celebrities repeatedly being photographed carrying them around as animal accessories, the demand for this petite breed has soared in recent years.

Michelle Alexander, who runs DeKalb-based Sita’s Dog Sanctuary, a chihuahua rescue group, has some pretty strong feelings toward that celebrity culture that has fed that demand.

“They use (the dogs) as photo opportunities,” Alexander said. “And they pay people to take care of their dogs. They treat them like accessories. Puppy mills now churn them out because of the demand that has been created.”

But, while Chihuahuas might look like the cute, cuddly dog everyone can love, the truth is they require a very specific environment to fit their strong personalities.

“They are super cute, but they are a different kind of breed,” said Chris Stirn, executive director of ADOPT Pet Shelter in Naperville. “They really bond with one person, primarily, and they are very protective of that person. They are feisty.”

Chihuahuas also are an energetic breed and require a lot of exercise.

Alexander agreed. “They are high strung little animals,” she said. “They have a lot of energy, and with the right person, they can be a perfect fit. I just adopted out a dog for a 91-year-old woman. It was the most perfect fit. (The dog) can get 24/7 attention.”

Their tiny size fools parents into thinking they are the perfect pet for their young children. In most cases, the situation does not turn out well, according to representatives at local animal shelters.

“They’re not a toy. They need protection and safeguards,” Stirn said.

“A lot of people think, well, they have little kids and they think a little dog is better,” said Anna Payton, executive director of the Naperville Humane Society. “But a lot of little dogs are not as tolerant because there is not as much (for kids) to squeeze. A lot of times, a larger dog is more tolerant.”

Chihuahuas are misunderstood dogs, Alexander said, but she fell in love with the breed.

“They are not for everyone,” she said. “They are brave and bold and outspoken. But they are also very loving and tender and dedicated to those they love. And their eyes. Their eyes speak without saying anything.”

Because the Chihuahuas are often misplaced in homes or misunderstood by their owners, area shelters are seeing a greater influx of the breed.

“For every one dog of other breeds we get in, we get five Chihuahuas,” Stirn said.

Only pitbulls outnumber Chihuahuas as the top breed found in area shelters, according to Stirn and others. One of the top reasons for people dropping off Chihuahuas, according to Stirn and Payton, is that families find the dog is not compatible with their situation.

“Most people who bring (to us) say, ‘Well, the dog was not getting along with our kids,’” Stirn said. Alexander also blames the high number of Chihuahuas in shelters on bad breeding.

“People will breed Chihuahuas and breed them and breed them and don’t know what they are doing,” she said, resulting in distortions of the breed’s personality and resulting in physical problems. “These dogs end up in the shelters.”

Alexander began her work four years ago, taking one or two dogs at a time from a shelter, but the numbers have increased to the point where her volunteer work turned into a full-time job.

“I am just horrified by what I see of how many Chihuahuas are in the shelter,” she said. “It is nonstop how many requests I get for saving these dogs, But, I cannot save every dog.”

One of the best ways to stem this tide is promoting better education on breeds.

“Shelters exist because people don’t always think through these choices,” Payton said. “People don’t always do their research when getting a pet.”

Breeds go through trends, she said, and right now Chihuahuas are one. The Naperville Area Humane Society and ADOPT both conduct thorough screening procedures and education for those interested in adopting any dog or cat.

“When you find the right fit (of dog) then everyone is happy,” Stirn said.

Learn more

Local shelters/rescue groups:

sitasdogsanctuary.weebly.com

napervillehumanesociety.org

adoptpetshelter.org

For more information on dog breeds:

animalplanet.com

www.akc.org

moderndogmagazine.com

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