Storm strands Chihuahuas

Even the luckiest of dogs aren’t immune to the holiday travel blues.

About a dozen Chihuahuas were booted Tuesday from a transcontinental flight that was supposed to take them from San Francisco’s animal shelter — where the miniature breed’s population has mushroomed in the past year and a half — to New York, where the breed is still in great demand.

Virgin America had volunteered to fly several pursefuls of the large-eyed breed across the country after San Francisco’s animal shelters began begging people to adopt the animals.

Their flight was scheduled for Tuesday, but a blizzard that blanketed the East Coast last weekend and stalled thousands of flights across the country forced the airline to nix the plan — for now.

“We just needed to focus on getting folks home for the holidays,” Virgin America spokeswoman Patricia Condon said.

San Francisco Chihuahuas will still be flown across the country, but not until January, when the holiday travel rush is finished, she said.

The exact number of Chihuahuas that were to be flown Tuesday had yet to be decided before the cancellation, but it was expected to be between six and 15, depending on space, Condon said. But by delaying the departure date until January, the airline can commit to transporting at least 15 dogs, she said.

In San Francisco, shelters have seen Chihuahuas go from a relatively rare breed just two years ago to rivaling pit bulls in their ubiquity, said Deb Campbell, spokeswoman for San Francisco Animal Care and Control.

She said that today, about a third of The City’s shelter dogs are Chihuahuas. The problem may come from the popularization of the breed on reality TV shows and other media, Campbell said.

“Puppy mills started pumping up their breeding to meet demand, but they’ve far exceeded it,” she said.

For some reason, the phenomenon has happened more in California than in other parts of the country. In New York, the breed is still in such high demand that after the news came out that shelter would receive the batch of California Chihuahuas, phones began ringing off the hook, Campbell said.

Some of the Chihuahuas that were supposed to fly to New York are likely to spend the holiday in the shelter, but others may have a merry Christmas after all, she said.

“One of them was adopted today already,” Campbell said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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