Pet Tales: San Diego 7 Chihuahuas settle in

Lucky, Dancer, Julia, Rosie, Inka, Dunkin and Joe-Joe have all settled happily into their foster homes in Butler and surrounding communities. They are the "San Diego Seven" Chihuahuas, and photographs of their Monday night arrival at Pittsburgh International Airport appeared in the Post-Gazette Tuesday.

Jodi Hilliard of Butler has been working for two years to make the cross-country rescue a reality. The logistics were complicated, but ultimately the financial costs weren't really that high.

All seven were checked by veterinarian Cheryl Haywood at her Myoma Animal Hospital in Mars. Adoptions of the California Chihuahuas are being handled through her rescue, Critter Care Adoptions.

They all "passed" their checkups, including Julia, the 5-pound, 18-month-old big-eared dog whose picture is on the PG website. Julia stuck her pink nose through the metal door of her shipping crate and her big eyes stared directly into the camera.

Foster homes were recruited by Julie Christensen, owner of PawPrints Grooming in Butler. She also made the connection with Critter Care.

Ms. Hilliard and her family are fostering Lucky, 5, who weighs 4.3 pounds. He's getting along just fine with the family's three Chihuahuas -- Tank, Maggie and Olive.

Some might ask, why are we importing dogs from California when homeless dogs are languishing in local shelters, where some have to be euthanized?

Small dogs are more the exception than the rule in Western Pennsylvania shelters, and they get adopted quickly. There are waiting lists of people who want to adopt small dogs.

In California, Chihuahuas are euthanized "by the thousands," said Marge Fithian of Philadelphia. In the past 12 months she and her family have saved 58 California Chihuahuas through their organization, Many Happy Returns.

Chihuahuas have always been popular in Southern California, perhaps because of close proximity to Mexico, where the breed originated, said Allison Choy, spokeswoman for Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego, the rescue that sent dogs to Pittsburgh.

Paris Hilton and other celebrities are frequently photographed carrying the tiny dogs as fashion accessories. And then there are movies and commercials starring Chihuahuas.

The San Diego rescue finds homes for 200-300 dogs per year, including Olive. Mrs. Hilliard and her husband adopted Olive two years ago when vacationing in San Diego, and she decided she had to help save more.

The Chi-oversupply has worsened with California's economic woes, and the state seems to be plagued with "irresponsible backyard breeders" who produce large numbers of puppies in an effort to make money, Ms. Fithian said,

When she started contacting California shelters and rescues three years ago, they were willing to share the Chihuahua overflow but said they could not afford airline fees. The Fithian family donated $1,100 for air fare and set up a revolving fund.

"When someone adopts Jodi's foster dog, Lucky, they're not just saving one dog. They are buying a plane ticket for another dog," Ms. Fithian explained.

The adoption fee for California Chihuahuas is $250, which includes spay or neuter, vet checks, inoculations, a microchip and flying fees. That is higher than local adoption fees.

In addition to the Pittsburgh transport, Many Happy Returns has financed three flights to a shelter in Maine, and 15 dogs are going to Maine later this month.

All of the Chihuahuas have flown on American Airlines, "and that company has been wonderful," Ms. Fithian said. "People think they are flying without heat or air conditioning, and that's not true. It's only on the tarmac that there is no heat or air conditioning" in the baggage or cargo area of the plane.

"We hope to make this a national effort," said Ms. Fithian, who is negotiating with other shelters and rescues. Ironically, she can neither adopt nor foster California Chihuahuas because of her family's 5-year-old Chihuahua. "Harry is the love of our life and the driving force behind this effort. But he's dog-aggressive."

So, are the San Diego Seven competing with local shelter dogs for good homes? The publicity generated by the arrival of California Chihuahuas in Maine has brought more people to the shelters that took them in and spurred more adoptions of other dogs, Ms. Fithian said.

Jolene Miklas, director of communications at Animal Friends, said, "We don't like to use the word 'competition' because every time someone rescues a pet that's a wonderful thing. We hope potential adopters would educate themselves about what's available locally."

The Ohio Township shelter has two Chihuahua mixes -- Primo, 8, has been there since March and Sahara, 5, came in on May 11.

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society "always supports adoption" and has taken in puppies and dogs from other shelters that could not place them, said Gretchen Fieser, director of public relations and marketing.

Potential adopters of the San Diego Seven must fill out and mail an adoption application, available at, which also has pictures and bios of the dogs. For information: 724-538-8494.

Healthy pet day

Healthy Pet Day will begin at 10 a.m. today at Healthy Pet Products, 9600 Perry Highway, McCandless. Seminars will include one on canine chiropractic (11 a.m.), pet supplements (noon) and cats (1 p.m.).

Company representatives will be on hand from Primal Pet Foods, Bravo!, Nature's Variety, Nature's Logic and NutriSource. Also present will be vendors from Good Paws Canine Massage, Pitter Paws Collars, Finders Keepers Design and K9 Kingdom. A K9 police dog and DogMan training demonstrations are scheduled.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064. First Published May 19, 2012 4:00 AM