Last weekend, a maintenance worker found 10 Chihuahuas abandoned in a vacant Lodi home. So he wrangled up the tiny family in the 700 block of South Church Street and delivered it to the Lodi Animal Shelter.
The arrival of the small dogs was not an unusual occurrence: Chihuahuas are flooding the Lodi shelter and are a dominant population in other shelters across the state. Lodi’s shelter receives more Chihuahuas than any other dog breed. Only the number of pit bulls approaches the Chihuahua population, forcing shelters to devote the majority of resources to two breeds.
Both dogs are popular and the most frequently bred and sold breeds in Lodi, according to Lodi Animal Control Supervisor Jennifer Bender.
The majority of the city's bite cases actually involve Chihuahuas.
And while the city receives funds to help reduce its pit bull population, Chihuahuas are excluded, making it difficult for the shelter to combat the problem.
“In this economy people don't have the money to take care of themselves, let alone an animal,” Bender said. “If they had the help to fix them and get rabies shots, they'd be more responsible. Because someone probably didn't have the resources to spay or neuter their dogs, we're now stuck trying to find homes for 10 Chihuahuas.
Chihuahuas make up roughly 40 percent of Lodi's animal shelter population, while pit bulls are roughly 35 percent, according to Bender.
The maintenance worker entered the home, which had been vacant for three days, and saw the litter scattered throughout the room.
“It seems like (Chihuahuas are) the ones running loose a lot more than any other breed,” Bender said. “But Chihuahuas are really common in almost any shelter.”
While Chihuahuas make up 2.6 percent of the county's dog population, they're currently 14 percent of all animal shelters nationwide, according to a study by Animal People, which tracks animal shelter dogs and cats throughout the United States.
Chihuahuas reflect 17 percent of Stockton's animal shelter and 18 percent of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter's population, second only to pit bulls at 25 percent.
There are several reasons for their popularity.
In Sacramento, animal control officers are picking up more Chihuahuas than they’re able to adopt out, said Sacramento County Spokesman Zeke Holst.
“The supply is greater than the demand,” Holst said.
Like pit bulls, there are many Chihuahua owners who don't spay or neuter their dogs, more so than other breeds. Also, their size allows them to easily escape a yard.
Lastly, Chihuahuas try aggressively to breed when they're in heat, and Bender said the shelter sees a significant increase in stray Chihuahuas during that time.
While many cities have dog ordinances for pit bulls, in California, only Hollister has a spay and neuter law for Chihuahuas.
Every year the Lodi Animal Shelter receives a $25,000 grant to help low-income dog and cat owners spay and neuter their pets. The grant, though, can only be used on cats and pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
It's a restriction the Lodi Animal Shelter tries to eliminate every year but has never been able to accomplish.
“There's nothing out there for small dog, Chihuahua-like mixes,” Bender said. “It'd be nice to have a program to help people fix them.”
Not only are Chihuahuas the most frequent breed running loose in Lodi, but they're most often involved in a bite, as well. Bender said 30 percent of bite reports involve Chihuahuas while 25 percent involve pit bulls.
“(Chihuahuas) can get you as much as a pit bull can,” Bender said. “They are more property protective than other dogs.”
Despite their aggression, they're the shelter's most commonly adopted dog.
Chihuahua's popularity has spiked since 1997 when they were used in Taco Bell advertisements, according to ANIMAL PEOPLE. In California and Arizona, shelters started receiving more Chihuahuas than ever, partly because of the large Hispanic population, the study adds.
Bender said Chihuahua's small size and low maintenance is one reason they're often adopted. Also, Chihuahuas are covered by nearly every homeowners insurance, unlike pit bulls.
Earlier this week Yazmin Medina, 11, her mother and her two younger brothers were walking their Chihuahua mix “Woof.” Its the second Chihuahua the family’s adopted because its small size makes it safe to own around her two younger brothers, Medina said.
“We think it's easier because if we get a bigger dog it could hurt my little brothers,” she said. “It's also easier to take care of than bigger dogs.”
With the large amount of Chihuahuas entering the shelter, Bender said the shelter is fortunate so many are adopted. But without the resources to help combat the problem, the shelter's Chihuahua population is unlikely to change.
“We get calls on a daily basis of Chihuahuas running loose,” Bender said. “Most of our facility is going to consist of the smaller dogs.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.