‘Paris Hilton Syndrome’ causes Chihuahua plague in dog shelters

San Francisco, Jan 1 (DPA) While most dog pounds in the US complain of having too many pitbulls and large mongrels that are difficult to find homes for, dog pounds on the west coast are crowded with fashionable Chihuahuas.

‘We’re busy looking after Chihuahuas. It’s driving us crazy,’ complains Deb Campbell, spokeswoman for San Francisco’s dog shelter.

A third of all dogs in San Francisco’s pound are Chihuahuas. It is the same story in Los Angeles, Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose where the small trendy dog with pointed ears and oversized eyes is taking up space to a degree never seen before. The problem has become so big it now has its own name: ‘Paris Hilton Syndrome’.

The phenomenon is one that only affects California. ‘People from the east coast to the southern states who heard about our problem have been calling us asking if we can send them a Chihuahua,’ says Campbell.

Adam Goldfarb, from the US animal protection organisation The Humane Society, told the San Francisco Chronicle he has been ‘totally surprised’ by the flood of Chihuahuas in the west. ‘They would be happy just to see one of those dogs in Minnesota, Maine or Kentucky.’

Animal rights activists in California have put part of the blame for the problem on Hollywood. Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Hillary Duff and Mickey Rourke are often seen in public sporting Chihuahuas. Actress Reese Witherspoon’s character in the movie ‘Naturally Blond’ had a Chihuahua called Bruiser, and Chloe the star of Beverly Hills Chihuahua has helped turn the breed into a fashionable accessory.

According to the latest figures gathered by Los Angeles’ city authority, Chihuahuas hold the number one spot for newly registered dogs. Dog breeders managed to react quickly to the demand but it turns out there is a bitter side to the boom in Chihuahuas.

‘People who bought Chihuahuas thought that because they are so small and can fit into a handbag that they would have a cool companion. They didn’t think that having a dog means giving it a lot of care and training or that the breed is susceptible to sickness and costs a lot of money to keep healthy,’ explains Kim Durney of the animal protection organisation, Grateful Dogs Rescue.

It appears high veterinary costs at a time of economic crisis have ruined the fun of

having a cute Chihuahua.

About half of the 66 Chihuahuas in the care of Grateful Dogs Rescue seeking new homes are stray dogs. Eight-year-old Madge was found on the streets of San Francisco and has been looking for a new owner since November. Seven-year-old Chico was deposited at the pound in October by his owner.

‘A few years ago they would have been adopted straightaway because there used to be so few of them. But now they have to wait,’ says Campbell.

California’s dog pounds are concentrating on finding prospective Chihuahua owners far from Hollywood. The city of Oakland has already transported more than 100 Chihuahuas to Oregon, Washington and Arizona with the help of volunteers. There is talk of establishing Chihuahua ‘Air Bridges’ to other states where the breed is in demand.

Hollywood actress Katherine Heigl recently donated some of her own money to help 25 stray Chihuahuas who were scheduled to be put down. It cost her $25,000 to transport them by air from Los Angeles to New Hampshire where they were received by fans of the lap dog.

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