Finding Homes for California's Exploding Population of Small Shelter Dogs

Finding Homes for California's Exploding Population of Small Shelter Dogs

Story at-a-glance -

  • California has a serious overpopulation problem when it comes to small dogs, and yet many other states across the country don't have enough little guys to meet the demand of people looking to adopt a pet.
  • Over the past few years, the plight of California's small breed dogs has begun to come to light, and efforts are underway to relocate dogs on the west coast to locations where their chances of being adopted are very good.
  • One San Francisco-based airline regularly flies Chihuahuas and other small dogs to New York, where demand is great. The ASPCA meets the dogs at the airport and arranges for adoptive or foster homes.
  • There's also a regular transfer of small dogs, called Pup My Ride, between Los Angeles shelters and the Humane Society of Utah, which has a chronic shortage of small breed dogs for adoption. This effort has saved the lives of hundreds of L.A.-area small dogs each year.

By Dr. Becker

In the dwindling days of summer last year, Hurricane Irene caused a temporary disruption in "Operation Chihuahua" - an airlift of precious cargo originally scheduled for August 30, 2011.

The City of San Francisco Animal Care and Control1 teamed up with San Francisco-based Virgin America airlines2 to help small shelter dogs find homes.

Photos of some of last summer's tiny travelers.

No Chihuahua Left Behind

Virgin America agreed to transport, free of charge, an overabundance of short-coated Chihuahuas in shelters on the west coast to eager prospective pet owners on the east coast.

According to Rebecca Katz, director of the City of San Francisco Animal Care and Control:

"We have a major overpopulation of Chihuahuas here in California. Virgin America's continued support in flying these little guys out to the East Coast over the last couple of years has helped us place them into loving homes that they couldn't have found here."

Dubbing their program "No Chihuahua Left Behind," Virgin America treats their tiny furry charges like VIPs, both on the ground before takeoff and while airborne.

Photos of 15 lucky dogs flown cross-country on Valentine's Day 2012. And don't miss these additional pics.

The Chi's are met at JFK airport by ASPCA workers who then place them in loving homes in the area.

Pup My Ride

Pup My Ride is a Best Friends' Animal Society3 program designed to move dogs from shelters and puppy mills to areas where they have the best chance of finding forever homes.

The Humane Society of Utah (HSU)4 has partnered with Best Friends to bring small dogs overflowing Los Angeles shelters to Utah, where small adoptable dogs are hard to come by.

Two years ago, Jessica Almeida moved from L.A. to Salt Lake City to work with HSU. She quickly realized that unlike the homeless small dog situation in California, areas like Salt Lake City had very few small dogs available for adoption.

Almeida was still receiving email alerts from L.A. Animal Control5 about animals close to their 'expiration dates,' and one day she showed the list to the HSU director. There were 38 small dogs from six L.A. area shelters on the soon-to-be-euthanized list for just that one day.

Best Friends L.A.6 was able to get a grant to fund two transport vans and the labor necessary to relocate dogs from Los Angeles to Utah. The first transport took 11 dogs. The second took 20. These days, about 30 dogs are relocated from L.A. to the HSU in Salt Lake City every two weeks.

According to Almeida, by the time a transport arrives in Salt Lake, most or all of the dogs from the previous transport have found homes. From April to December 2008, almost 600 dogs were rescued from L.A. shelters, and the goal for subsequent years has been at least 800 per year.

Pup My Ride in the Sky

In January of this year, Pup My Ride took to the air, flying 31 small dogs from a Los Angeles shelter to the east coast and new forever homes.

The flight was made possible by the Los Angeles Animal Alliance7, Best Friends L.A. and American Airlines8.

On the receiving end were several shelters and rescues in New York who are part of the Best Friends' No More Homeless Pets Network.

There's still a lot of work to be done in California and especially the Los Angeles area to help homeless animals, in particular the population of small breed dogs.

But my hat is off to all the wonderful people who saw an opportunity to use the law of supply and demand to save the lives of countless little west coast canines.


+ Sources and References