- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - As a customer walked into Plaza Liquors one evening, a squirrel-size animal in a floral collar trotted up to meet him, wagging its tail.

Smitten, the man squatted down to greet the teacup Chihuahua and scooped her up onto his lap.

Hussie likes people, her owner Christy Johnson said. Especially men.

“This size dog will make the tallest, gruffest-looking guy talk in a baby voice,” Johnson said.

Once almost strictly the domain of Labradors and cattle dogs, Jackson Hole has gone to the tiny dogs. They’re everywhere, from retail shops to the trails. They get tucked into purses and toted on boats.

There seem to be three main reasons for the infusion of cat-size canines. Jackson is getting more urban, with smaller dwellings. Its population is aging. And it receives small dog castoffs from shelters across the West that euthanize more animals than they find homes for.

Veterinarian Ernie Patterson said he “definitely” sees more small dogs compared with 20 years ago. He and his wife, Ruth, adopted a couple of Chihuahuas in the past few years after decades of having larger breeds.

“Our firsthand experience is reflective of the valley in general,” Patterson said. “We’re older now, and our lifestyle is a little easier with smaller dogs. We’re not skiing the pass anymore and doing that sort of activity. Having a little dog for a companion is easy.”

Peter Rork is responsible for importing at least 100 small dogs to Jackson. Since 2012 he and his nonprofit Dog is My Copilot have flown “California Littles” from a shelter in Merced County, California, which had a dismal adoption rate of just 6 percent. That number has increased to 25 percent in the past four years, he said, but still, 42 percent of its animals are euthanized.

“We’ve kind of changed the complexion” of dogs in Jackson, Rork said, with small mixed-breed dogs he has brought to the Animal Adoption Center.

“Down in the Southwest, it’s like Chihuahua central,” Rork said. “You just don’t see them up in the northern Rockies.”

With an oversupply of small dogs in the Southwest because of poor spaying and neutering practices, it’s difficult to get them adopted there. Enter Rork’s transport service. He primarily picks up small dogs and flies them to Utah, Montana and Wyoming.

“They fly off the shelves when you get north,” Rork said.

Small dogs have a number of advantages, Rork said.

“They eat less, and they make smaller messes,” Rork said. “They’re better in smaller apartments. They’re easy to travel with. They live longer.”

Robin Thoenig never intended to get small dogs, but she has rescued two Yorkshire terriers that were in need of homes. One of them was dumped in its kennel in front of a Jackson gas station.

She has found them easier than the Rottweilers she had in the past. On any given day customers at Thoenig’s Fine Jewelry will see silver-colored Sunny resting in a sunbeam and brown Buddy wrestling with teeny toys.

“People come to see the dogs,” Thoenig said. “You can pick them up and put them in your car, you can hold them on your lap, you can take them places a lot easier with you.”

Becky Benante got her Yorkie, Billy, 14 years ago while living in California. Billy has “an adventurous spirit” and easily adjusted to life in Jackson Hole. The 6-pound terrier loves to hike but doesn’t go long distances. Benante will pop him into a backpack for backcountry hikes up Mount Glory and down to Ski Lake.

“I’m careful about where I take him,” Benante said. “He could be snapped up by a fox or an owl.”

Billy gets to ride in a bike trailer on the valley pathways and has a small wardrobe to protect him from the elements: a fleece coat and a raincoat.

Since Billy was a puppy, Benante has acted as a personal chef for him, poaching organic meats and vegetables and grinding them up in a blender.

Why the special treatment? He’s her family.

“It’s just the two of us,” Benante said. “We have a great relationship.”

People can witness the companionship of small dogs all over town.

At Jackson Hole Health and Fitness, general manager Terry Johnson keeps a baby gate on his office door. Pedro, a somewhat rotund 10-year-old Chihuahua, greets exercisers and then retreats to Johnson’s chair or lap. He’s a lap dog in the truest sense of the phrase. Johnson’s lap is his favorite place in the world.

When dog lovers Jeff and Tracey Heilbrun were looking for a pet, they sought one that wouldn’t shed much and would fit easily in their 1,000-square-foot home. They chose a Norfolk terrier they named Buckey. Although he weighs just 14 pounds, Buckey “thinks he’s a big dog,” Jeff Heilbrun said.

Buckey is an active terrier. Given his druthers he would dig holes in search of prey, but he’ll settle for hiking up Josies Ridge, wrestling with furry friends at DogJax or walking the windowsills to gaze at wildlife.

More importantly, he’s a powerful bundle of personality. He sleeps in the middle of the bed, pushing his humans to the corners. He plays hide and seek with his people and loves to bound through the snow. He attacks the television if it’s tuned to a golf tournament. If he hears a coyote outside, “he’ll start howling like a coyote,” Heilbrun said.

“It’s so unmanly,” Heilbrun admitted, “but I’m a wreck about him.”

Anna West, general manager at the Animal Adoption Center, said there’s a big market for little dogs, which have a lot of charm.

“Little dogs totally have big dog personalities,” West said.

___

Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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