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Chihuahuas migrated to New York to escape death sentence

In this photo released by Virgin America, Sandra

In this photo released by Virgin America, Sandra Bernal, City of San Francisco Animal Care and Control Agency, gets a kiss from a Chihuahua pup prior to boarding a Virgin America flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) so they can be adopted into loving homes on the East Coast -- on Wednesday, January 6, 2010. Virgin America offered to fly the pups given the overpopulation of Chihuahuas in California, which is forcing animal shelters on the West Coast to look to shelters on the East Coast for help. The Chihuahua's - from City of San Francisco's Animal Care and Control Agency, will be received at JFK by New York American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals representatives. (Photo by Virgin America, Bob Riha, Jr.)

(Photo: Virgin America, Bob Riha, Jr.)

They must be dog-tired after their ordeal.

Fifteen Chihuahuas once at risk of euthanasia arrived safely in New York on Wednesday from a shelter in California, where experts say there’s an overpopulation of the pint-sized pooches doted on by celebs such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

“When you have starlets prancing around with one of those small pocketbook pets, it creates a fad and you have these puppy mill breeders … trying to make a quick buck,” said Joe Panz, the tattooed leader of Rescue Ink, a New York-based rescue group showcased on the National Geographic Channel. “It’s a miserable existence.”

Chihuahuas make up about one-third of shelter dogs in San Francisco, where New York’s newest canine residents are from. Their overbreeding has left many Chihuahuas’ lives in jeopardy.

“The idea that these animals could have been killed is phenomenal to us in an area of the country where we can never satisfy the demand for small dogs,” said Gail Buchwald, Senior Vice President for the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York. Smaller dogs are well suited for New York’s smaller living spaces, she said.

Celebrities shouldn’t be directly blamed, Panz said. “People view Paris Hilton’s dog in her pocketbook as an accessory. Paris Hilton might not. She might love that animal to death,” he said. "It’s our perception of her that’s the problem.”

Pop-culture expert Jonathan Gray said celebrity influence on pet owners may be inevitable. People already looking for a pet will take cues from media stars who suggest one breed might be desirable over another, said the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor.

The teacup pig, a trendy pet owned by Hilton, David and Victoria Beckham, and others — could be another breed that suffers if demand for it declines. (The oinkers aren’t legal in New York City.)

Ironically, it’s the 15 Chihuahuas who will now get the celebrity treatment. The pups flew in their own seats, thanks to Virgin Airlines and will be staying in rooms with heated floors and piped-in music at the ASPCA.

Actress Katherine Heigl similarly joined with American Airlines last month to save 25 Chihuahuas in Los Angeles and fly them to New Hampshire.

The ASPCA hopes that others will step forward to help migrate the Chihuahua to New York, where other experts say the Yorkie now is the reigning breed.


To adopt
Where: ASPCA Adoption Center, 424 E. 92nd St. 
When: Wednesday, between noon and 7 p.m.
Bring: Two forms of ID and references
Adoption cost: Between $75 and $200, including vaccinations and treatments
For more info: Visit’s adoption page or call (212) 876-7700, ext. 3210

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