For weeks, the animal shelter where I volunteer has been gearing up for the release of the new Disney movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Not by reading reviews or buying tickets—but by assessing cage space, especially the cages that hold little dogs. They know that in just a few months, they will likely be filled with dozens of cast-off “Papis” and “Chloes.”
In the animal sheltering community, cute animal movies aren’t something to look forward to. After the live-action 101 Dalmatians was released in 1996, families across the country rushed out to buy a dog like the ones they had seen in the movie. Within months, unwanted Dalmatians were being abandoned in shelters when these families realized that the adorable little scamp they bought was growing up into a spotted tornado with seemingly endless energy and a penchant for chewing up shoes.
Some lucky Dalmatians found new homes with people who loved them for who they were—not just for their spots. Many others didn’t, and like millions of other homeless dogs, their lives ended with the prick of a euthanasia needle.
Fears are that the same thing will happen again—this time, with Chihuahuas. Puppy mills—which raise dogs in cramped, crude, filthy conditions and supply puppies to pet shops—and money-hungry dog breeders will take full advantage of the Chihuahua craze by churning out as many litters of Chihuahuas as they can.
Not only will these Chihuahua puppies steal potential homes from dogs in shelters whose lives depend on being adopted, many of them will also end up in animal shelters themselves when the people who bought them on impulse find out that they are more work than expected or when their puppy doesn’t act exactly like the perfectly trained dogs in the movie.
People looking to make a quick buck by peddling puppies won’t tell buyers that without proper training, Chihuahuas can be strong-willed, snappy and overly protective or that they aren’t suitable companions for young children, who can unintentionally injure these small dogs (Chihuahuas are born with a “soft spot” in their skulls, which on some dogs never entirely fuses).
And while they may be small, Chihuahuas require just as much time, expense and attention as any dog. They need daily training and walks, grooming, costly veterinary care and all the love and attention you can give them.
If you’re ready to pour your time, energy, money, attention and love into a canine companion, please visit PetFinder.com to see what homeless dogs are available for adoption at your local animal shelter. And try to have an open mind about what type of dog you’re looking for—best friends come in many colors, shapes and sizes. You might be surprised to discover that the perfect dog for you—the one with whom you find a certain, unmistakable connection—isn’t a Beverly Hills Chihuahua but a lovable shelter mutt.
Even Rusco, the dog who plays Papi in the movie, was rescued from a shelter—and he’s a mixed-breed himself. Of course, if you’re certain that a Chihuahua is the dog for you, just wait a month or two—there will be plenty to choose from in animal shelters everywhere.Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.HelpingAnimals.com.