11/07/2012 11:58 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

Getting a Little Nuts

For as long as I've been working in animal shelters there's always been one or another breed of dog which has disproportionally filled up our kennel spaces. Back for awhile in the late 1970s it was Irish Setters and other sight-hounds. I honestly don't know why they were so popular at the time, but while omnipresent then I honestly can't remember the last time one showed up in our shelter. Dalmatians had their time, due we all felt to the popular film (101 Dalmatians was how we looked at our kennels for a few years), and Jack Russell Terriers were breed du jour as a result of TV's Frasier and other media.

It works like this: whatever breed the media or trend-setting celebrities hype, backyard breeders and puppy mills focus their attention there to fill a consumer demand. And then reality strikes. TV's Eddie may have been content to sit on the ugly recliner all day long (or at least for the half hour show) but Jack Russell Terriers are actually incredibly smart and high-maintenance dogs. If a day on the furniture is what you really have to offer, there's a very good chance that smart but bored animal will rip that furniture to pieces. Unrealistic expectations and naïve consumers running up against real, live dogs: that's how so many pure-bred dogs end up in shelters.

In recent times, two breeds of dog have not only become incredibly popular but also appear to be bucking the past trends of falling out of popularity almost as quickly: Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas. Many shelters, including my own Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, have worked hard at trying to figure out an answer to such breed-specific overpopulation and in fact we've seen great success of late in curtailing the overpopulation crisis with Pits. We're not yet where we want to be, but a combination of subsidized spay/neuter programs and breed-education opportunities for owner/caregivers has made a large and measureable dent. The challenge with Chihuahuas is, we feel, a bit different.

Too many Pit Bulls filling the shelters is seen by many as a problem. In contrast, too many Chihuahuas filling those same shelters is seen by just as many as a bit silly, or a joke. From the perspective of those of us who work at shelters, too many is a crisis regardless of the breed. None of us believes that euthanasia of healthy dogs, or those dogs with readily treatable medical or behavioral challenges, is an acceptable response to that crisis. Instead, the answer is to reduce the numbers of those unwanted animals. The answer is spay/neuter surgery, plus education.

As such, in response to the Chihuahua overpopulation problem plaguing shelters, the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA (PHS/SPCA) is offering something even better than free spay and neuter surgeries for Chihuahuas and Chi-mixes living in San Mateo County and San Francisco. Not only free, but owners will receive a $20 cash bonus for allowing us to alter their Chihuahua and Chi-mixes.

Yep, bring us you little friend and we'll not only spay or neuter him or her free of charge but we'll also hand you $20.00 for giving us the opportunity to do so. Hence the title of this piece: Getting a Little Nuts.

The program is funded by PHS/SPCA Board member and generous supporter Vanessa Getty. Ms. Getty is also the founder of San Francisco Bay Humane Friends, an auxiliary organization within PHS/SPCA.

PHS/SPCA's current promotion will continue as funding allows; no end date has been set. Interested San Mateo County and San Francisco Chihuahua or Chihuahua-mix owners can make an appointment by calling PHS/SPCA's Spay/Neuter Clinic today at (650) 340-7015.

In addition, PHS/SPCA is waiving the adoption fee for all Chihuahuas and Chihuahua-mixes available for adoption. Currently we have more than two dozen Chihuahuas or Chihuahua mixes available for adoption and the breed now accounts for more than 20 percent of all incoming dogs.

Dogs are dogs, certainly among the most fantastic species on the planet. If you've got room in your home and heart please head to your local shelter. (And if you're in our 'hood, PHS/SPCA adoptions happen at our new Center for Compassion at 1450 Rollins Road in Burlingame; our spay/neuter clinic remains at our historic Coyote Pt. shelter at 12 Airport Boulevard in San Mateo.)