By Beth Ward, Humane Society Silicon Valley Vice President of Community Alliances
Not long ago, adopting a Chihuahua meant seeking out a breeder and paying top dollar. Made popular as a celebrity fashion statement, these adorable, purse-sized pups were in high demand. Countless breeders were eager to supply dogs who don’t require much food or space, and soon the market was flooded. Today, Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes are overcrowding California’s animal shelters.
Some areas of the state are particularly inundated with stray Chihuahuas. In the Bay Area, animal control officials say there are thousands of stray Chihuahuas roaming neighborhoods from San Jose to Vallejo. Silicon Valley has seen increased reports of stray Chihuahuas, as well as pregnant Chihuahuas experiencing life-threatening complications, and the number of Chihuahuas surrendered in the region has been growing steadily since 2011.
Like other shelters in California, Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) has experienced massive increases of Chihuahua breeds and mixes in the last five to eight years.To help decrease the overcrowding of shelters and overpopulation of Chihuahuas in California’s Santa Clara County, HSSV is conducting a groundbreaking initiative. With the help of PetSmart Charities and committed supporters the Berg family, HSSV launched “The Chihuahua Project,” a joint partnership with local animal care and animal control organizations that provides free spay/neuter services for Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes.
Before launching this unique program, HSSV identified the specific areas from which a significant number of Chihuahuas were being surrendered and reported as strays. Since the majority of Chihuahuas in California shelters come from five specific zip codes, the Chihuahua Project specifically targets pet overpopulation in those areas. Focusing spay and neuter efforts in a select geographical area produces sustainable, tangible results by providing services to the people and pooches that need them most. From 2011 to 2013, HSSV altered a total of 3,177 dogs, driving a 12.5 percent decrease in local Chihuahua surrenders.
In addition to spaying and neutering, various alternative solutions have been put forth to combat Chihuahua overpopulation while also preventing euthanasia. One such program, a joint initiative by Virgin America and the City of San Francisco Animal Care dubbed “Operation Chihuahua Airlift,” involved relocating Chihuahuas from overcrowded shelters on the West Coast to the New York area, where Chihuahuas were in higher demand. While this was a successful endeavor, critics voiced concerns about its sustainability and warned of a soon-to-be saturated New York market.
As with all issues pertaining to animal welfare, the solution to California’s Chihuahua overpopulation situation must be sustainable, effective, and viable in terms of animal rights and public safety. In addition to saving and improving lives in the immediate sense, spaying and neutering the immense Chihuahua populations in certain California counties will significantly reduce the number of Chihuahuas being surrendered to shelters. HSSV hopes to continue providing free, lifesaving spay/neuter service to further reduce the overpopulation of local Chihuahua and Chihuahua mixes.