Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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October 22, 2013
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Chihuahuas take on pit bulls

In the early 1990s shelters were full of German Shepherds, later rottweilers, then a group of terriers lumped together as pit bulls. Animal shelters are seeing another shift in population. Pit bull-type dogs are being replaced with Chihuahuas. Especially in the western United States, shelters are overflowing and neighborhoods in cities like Oakland are wrestling with a stray Chihuahua population living in packs like third world village dogs.

To answer why, some point to Paris Hilton who appeared everywhere with teacup pups. It is true that celebrity association or a hit film featuring a specific dog breed often leads to impulse buying, mass production, overpopulation and ultimately to an increase in shelter turn ins by spontaneous pet owners. The puppy mill industry thrives on “hot” dog trends. In October, Adopt A Dog Month, attention is paid to shelter statistics. Included on Oct. 26 is the sixth National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

Although urban area shelters remain stocked with pit bull-type dogs, DNA tests show that the “block head dogs” or “bullys” over time have become diluted into mixes dominated by non-terrier genes. For example, the lab-pitty mix is typical everywhere. In fact, there is no “pit bull” breed. The references are to American Staffordshire Terrier-type dogs — the nanny dogs of movies and children’s stories — and those who look like them. About a century ago, the bad rap dogs were selectively bred and forced to fight other dogs for entertainment. Gambling and drugs remain at the heart of that scene when it occurs today. Rehabilitation of the Michael Vick “Vicktory” dogs is the most famous recent event which demonstrated that even the terriers raised for fighting are blameless victims.

During the National Football League star’s trial, experts determined that half of his tortured, unsocialized dogs were adoptable immediately. Advocating for individual assessment rather than the usual automatic euthanasia of the others, the 22 remaining dogs were taken in by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah to see if they could be made whole in body and mind.

The primary issues were lack of socialization and isolation. Everything in their world was new and scary, but the dogs were sweet tempered. Experts worked with the dogs and when ready, new owners were carefully selected, coached and supported in introducing their new family members to the big real world outside of dog fighting. Due to the high profile trial of the NFL star, and the challenge taken on, several of the rehabilitated canines became local and national media stars — spokesdogs for their kind. Recently there was a sanctuary reunion of the Vicktory dogs and their adopters. Each dog had adapted and become a loving member of a new family.

Continued prejudice in the form of pit bull myth, breed specific legislation, and insurance company refusal to cover liability for a longer and longer list of dog breeds led to the establishment of National Pit Bull Awareness Day by Jodi Preis of Bless the Bullys. She used the generic term pit bull because it’s the name familiar to the public and authorities focus on the way a dog looks when labeling it a “pit bull”, even though that form of identification is impossible.

So now what’s to become of all the Chihuahuas? Some insurance companies already include them on home liability insurance black lists because of reported bites and aggression. Again, fad dogs are victims of inbreeding and overbreeding. Taking the time to find the right match, accepting the responsibility and commitment which comes with taking care of any living creature saves lives. Spay-neuter and current identification is a powerful start since compiled statistics show only 10 percent of shelter dogs come in sterilized. Sixty percent of shelter dogs are euthanized. Just 15 percent of stray dogs return to their owners.

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Oct 22, 2013 07:08PM Published Oct 23, 2013 01:48PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.