Chloe, the preening four-legged princess in the film "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," might want to take note. In this economy, even pampered pets from better addresses can quickly become Little Orphan Annies.
At least that's the case in Santa Barbara County, where three rescue shelters are housing a veritable glut of abandoned Chihuahuas. So many, in fact, that shelter managers are concluding a weeklong "Adopt-a-Chihuahua" campaign.
More than 100 of the high-energy pets went up for adoption Saturday. Though there's been a flurry of interest, more than 75 of the animals are still waiting for homes, said Animal Services Director Jan Glick.
Most were brought to county animal shelters as strays or were dropped off by owners who are moving or who can no longer afford to keep them, Glick said. High rents, rampant foreclosures and rising costs of pet food and veterinary care have dampened the popularity of the once-hip pooch, shelter operators say.
"People find they can't afford to feed them, or they lose their homes and they have to give up their animals," Glick said.
Cynthia Castaneda, 53, and her daughter, Christina, 23, came to the Santa Barbara shelter this week in search of a playmate for their 5-year-old male Chihuahua, Cheuy.
They found Chespita, a tawny-coated female with green eyes and a pink collar studded with rhinestones. The tiny year-old dog had been dropped off a few days earlier by someone who got her as a gift, a shelter worker said.
The women filled out an application and promised to check back in a few days. It costs $85 to adopt a dog at the county-run shelters in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria.
During the weeklong campaign, every adopted Chihuahua comes with its own pink carrying case, trimmed in fake black fur, shelter officials said.
Peggy Langle, who heads the Santa Barbara Humane Society, said she has seen other dog trends over the years.
Shelters filled with Dalmatians for a while after the 1996 remake of "101 Dalmatians," she said.
Chihuahuas became fashionable after the 2001 release of "Legally Blonde," starring Reese Witherspoon as a Beverly Hills airhead who brings her Chihuahua along to Harvard Law School. Paris Hilton upped the ante in recent years by toting her own Chihuahuas (she reportedly lost at least one of them) in Louis Vuitton carrying cases.
Chihuahuas can be "snippy and barky," Langle said, but they also make great security dogs and fit comfortably into even small apartments, she said. The breed originated in Mexico and is one of the smallest known canines, averaging 6 pounds.
"We have tons of them," Langle said. After a pause, she added: "Well, make that pounds."
More information about the AKC listing for the Chihuahua breed is at www.akc.org/breeds/chihuahua.