The Great Chihuahua Airlift Controversy

Last week, The Houston SPCA took in 29 Chihuahuas and other small breed mixes from California.  I was amazed by the negative commentary on local media outlets, which made it clear once again that the general public doesn’t really get how animal welfare organizations function.

The comments on local news websites all circled around the same theme.  With so many homeless pets here in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area, what the hell was the HSPCA doing importing more?

It’s a valid question, if you don’t really know how all this works.

Yes, there are literally thousands of homeless dogs in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area.  And yes, far too many of them will be euthanized for no reason except that they have no home. 

Many of the commenters complained that the HSPCA should be helping BARC or other local organizations place their dogs, if they had so much extra time and space.  It just doesn’t work like that.  Many agencies are so busy fighting fires in-house, so to speak, that they never reach out to other groups to make the connections that would allow for this kind of mutual assistance. 

The whole point of the Great Chihuahua Airlift was to move the dogs from a “market” overloaded with little cute dogs to one in which the dogs would be readily adoptable.  If the HSPCA took animals from other local organizations, it would not change the market dynamics; it would be the same pets up for adoption to the same constituency.

I admire the creativity and determination of the shelter in California for reaching out to other groups for help to save dogs that they KNEW were adoptable in other places.  And I wholeheartedly approve of the HSPCA’s openness to helping other agencies – they did the same thing for shelters in Louisiana during the oil spill.

The hard truth is that in a system containing this many animals, 29 Chihuahuas will make absolutely zero difference.  The HSPCA has the space and the facilities to handle them without compromising their standard of care for the other animals in their custody.  And let’s be honest – the publicity generated by these 29 little dogs will bring dozens of potential adopters into the HSPCA, where they may adopt from this group, or they may find their new pet among the “local” residents.  It’s a smart move.

As the HSPCA explained, these cute little dogs are highly adoptable in this area.  In California, there is a serious population glut of these little guys, which means that is very difficult to get them adopted.  Groups of small dogs were also sent from California to shelters in Colorado – same reason.

But here’s the real kicker.  We do the same thing.  Most people don’t know about Project Save A Lab, which takes Labrador retrievers from the shelter system here and relocates them up north, where they are in demand and thus highly adoptable.  Here in Texas, shelters are overflowing with Labs; many, many good dogs get put to sleep because there are more Labs than homes. 

How can we criticize any program that takes dogs out of danger and puts them where they stand a much better chance of finding permanent homes?


  1. Judith says

    No matter what the HSPCA does, there will be people complaining. Sour grapes? Could be. I only wish those who complain would use their energy in some more positive manner.

  2. shannon says

    I absolutely agree! I just wish that they understood the realities of the situation better. Bringing in those Chihuahuas benefits everyone – the California shelter, the Chi’s, and the other pets at the HSPCA that will be adopted more quickly by all the extra people brought in by the publicity.

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