- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES

Chihuahuas have been flying out of California since other states learned about the glut of little dogs in the Golden State. A group of 25 dogs already has arrived at the Humane Society for Greater Nashua in New Hampshire, thanks to “Grey’s Anatomy” actress Katherine Heigl, Kinder4Rescue in Studio City and American Airlines.

A group of 43 was scheduled to leave for New Hampshire on Monday or Tuesday, said Kathy Davis, interim general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, who took part in a news conference Friday to announce Project Flying Chihuahua. They were supposed to leave Saturday morning, but bad weather in the East caused a delay, she said.

The Nashua shelter found homes for the first 25 and had a waiting list of 100 people, Miss Davis said.

Miss Heigl’s foundation, the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, named for her late brother, has paid the discounted airfare for all 68 dogs so far and new donors for more flights were being sought.

Virgin America flew a group of Chihuahuas to New York City from San Francisco on Tuesday, said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president overseeing the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ adoption center in New York City.

They will be processed and should be available for adoption next Tuesday , she said.

Miss Buchwald said she didn’t know how many to expect, but each dog will be escorted by a volunteer, and Virgin will provide travel for both dogs and humans.

The airline also is expected to offer a week of half-price trips to passengers willing to escort an animal to New York, but details have yet to be finalized, Miss Buchwald added.

A call to a Virgin America representative was not immediately returned on Friday.

Dozens of dogs have been sent by Oakland Animal Services to nearby states, including Washington, Oregon and Arizona, but most of them were delivered by sport utility vehicle, director Megan Webb said, because there wasn’t enough money to fly the dogs to more distant states.

The Chihuahua crisis in California developed as Hollywood featured the dogs in movies such as “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Legally Blonde,” and they became constant companions to the rich and famous. Backyard breeders saw a chance to make hundreds of dollars per dog, but the recession forced some dog owners to abandon their pets.

California shelters soon found that Chihuahuas made up 30 percent or more of their dog populations. Meanwhile, Miss Buchwald said, there has long been a shortage of small dogs in the East.

Officials on both sides of the country are optimistic they can work out the imbalance.Miss Davis said finding homes for 68 barely made a dent in Los Angeles shelters, but it was a start.

“We have plenty more where those came from, and we’re more than happy to send them home for the holidays. If there’s a Santa Claus out there, we’re ready and waiting for you.”

In the past 12 months, animal shelters in Los Angeles have taken in 4,700 Chihuahuas - 1,000 more than the 12 months before that.

Los Angeles has more than 300 Chihuahuas in its shelters, Miss Davis said, and the shelters are taking in about 340 a month.

“The majority of them are healthy. They do need some socialization. Some we’re finding haven’t been well treated in the homes they’ve been in. They need some TLC,” Miss Davis said.

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