Monday, January 26, 2009
Are chihuahuas the new pit bulls?
Holding Lily the Chihuahua required a gentle touch recently at a hair salon, for fear of breaking one of her bird-like bones that could be felt through her thin fur and skin. Sitting still on my lap, she stared appreciatively into my eyes as she waited for her owner, Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA in California. When finished, Lindquist told me, "I'm worried about all Chihuahuas now. They're on their way to becoming the next pit bulls."
She explains that dog breed popularity can follow trends. Due to the latest breed "fashion" and Disney's movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua, more people have been bringing home tiny breeds, particularly Chihuahuas, and then dumping them off at shelters not long afterwards. The same thing has happened to pit bulls over the years, since they have an established "tough and cool" image. She says, "Sadly, many people do little research into breed characteristics and don't understand and commit to the responsibilities of lifetime ownership of a puppy or dog."
The Good and Bad of Chihuahuas
Every good quality of a person or pet can be perceived as a negative, depending on one's perspective and situation. For example, a friend who phones you night and day might get on your nerves. But then that same person could be there for you when other friends aren't available. The same yin and yang balance of characteristics applies to Chihuahuas, too:
Good They are fiercely loyal, intelligent and full of personality.
Bad This loyal, protective nature can lead to excessive barking and even occasional nipping. A study conducted earlier this year by the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society and National Taiwan Normal University found that Chihuahuas and other tiny breeds can be aggressive toward both human and canine strangers.
Good The life expectancy of a Chihuahua is around 20 years, Lindquist says.
Bad As pets get older, they often require more medical treatment. According to PetPlace, the cost of owning a small to medium-sized dog over an average life span of just 14 years is $7,240 to $12,400.
Good Chihuahuas love to burrow, so they often snuggle into everything from your shirt to your bed blankets before resting and sleeping.
Bad Not everyone wants an ever-present dog buddy.
Good Their size and overall good manner when not feeling threatened make them ideal for outings, such as to a restaurant or hotel that allows dogs. They fit well in lightweight over-the-shoulder carriers.
Bad It's recommended that children be school-aged or older before a Chihuahua is added to their home. This is for the safety of both child and dog.
The Pitfalls of Pit Bulls, Chihuahuas and Other Pets
If you're still considering adding a Chihuahua to your home, perhaps after having admired one on TV or in a film, John Dauzat, director of Fremont Animal Services in California, offers some words to chew on. "A puppy that looks cute in a movie may not seem as cute when it chews a favorite shoe or cries to go out at 3 a.m. in the morning," he says. "Rather than work through the issues, it is often easier to dump the animal."
"Sadder yet," adds Adam Parascandola, director of California's Oakland Animal Services, "is when a family realizes a poor fit and relegates the innocent animal to the backyard. That is when we get calls for barking or neglected dogs." He continues, "Many times help reaches these animals too late -- some are too antisocial and fearful to ever enjoy life with a family again."
How to Avert a Chihuahua Disaster
Despite the potential problems, countless Chihuahua owners can attest to the fact that this smallest of breeds makes one of the sweetest and most loving of pet companions -- for the right individuals and families. To avoid Chihuahuas going the way of pit bulls (becoming home rejects at shelters), Linquist offers the following advice:
Resist the impulse buy of a dog These animals are solely dependent upon us, and their lives are completely in our hands. That is a huge responsibility for a long, long time.
Do your homework Research various breeds to determine which best suits your own particular lifestyle. You can do this online, by reading books, or by talking to neighbors, co- workers, veterinarians and other animal experts.
Volunteer at a shelter Most could use the helping hands, and it will allow you to see what's involved in pet care, how different breeds behave and how many dogs, like pit bulls, wind up in rescue facilities through no fault of their own.
Consider your living situation Do you plan to stay in your home for a while, or could you move in a few years? If you rent, will your landlord allow pets, even small dogs like Chihuahuas? All of these factors, and more, could affect what happens to your dog in the long run.
Be honest about your financial ability Take a hard, detailed look at your income and savings to make sure that you'll be able to afford pet care costs now and in the years to come.
Consider saving a shelter dog While many reputable Chihuahua breeders exist, check with your local shelter first to see if they have what you are looking for. You could save a life while saving money.
Lily is proof that loving little Chihuahuas can be found at animal shelters, and that caring homes can break the pit bull shelter cycle. Is she here to stay? Just ask one of Lindquist three additional dogs, all pit bulls, which have grown very protective of Lily and have voted that she's a keeper.