The overpopulation of chihuahuas in California, and especially around Los Angeles, results in as many as 300 dogs per month just for a single shelter, L.A. Animal Services alone. Elsewhere in the USA, the demand for small dogs rather than large ones from shelters cannot be met.
The Humane Society of Knox County in Maine had a low enough population in their shelters that they could easily handle thirteen chihuahuas from L.A. Part of the adoption fee in Maine will go to the L.A. shelter, part to the Maine shelter, and part to the organization Many Happy Returns, which connects shelters in chihuahua-poor parts of the nation with overpopulated shelters in California.
Many Happy Returns was founded by Marge Fithian of Philadelphia. She'd seen on television a preliminary chihuahua exchange from L.A. to New York known as the Great Chihuahua Airlift, or "Project Flying Chihuahuas," when hundreds of people lined up in Manhattan for dogs no one in California wanted. Most of those would-be dog parents had to be turned away. "The sad part," said Fithian, "is it was a one-time thing."
More people wanted the dogs but the project that had been financed by actress Katherine Heigl was indeed a one-time thing. So Fithian's mother provided seed-money to repeat the process, the project becoming self-sustaining through the adoption fees, public donations, and corporate sponsorships.
By the time thirteen chihuahuas arrived in Thomaston, Maine, in Spring of 2010, there were already more people waiting for them than could be fulfilled. Fithian hoped the shelter in Thomaston, Maine, would continue the project now that they had the hook-up to L.A. [Photos by Gabor Degre]