Previously: Photo Gallery: Media Madness As SF Animal Care Highlights Chihuahua Problems

A group of small dogs left San Francisco International Airport for the Big Apple today, a spokeswoman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said.

Fifteen Chihuahuas boarded two Virgin America planes this morning as part of “Operation Chihuahua,” which is relocating the dogs to New York because of overpopulation of the breed in California shelters, ASPCA spokeswoman Emily Brand said.

The Chihuahuas, ranging in age from puppies to senior dogs, came from San Francisco Animal Care and Control, Brand said. After a red carpet entrance to the plane from an airport departure gate, the dogs were put in kennels that were placed on seats in the plane’s main cabin, Brand said.

The first plane took off with nine Chihuahuas from San Francisco and a second plane took off shortly afterward with six more, she said. The planes are scheduled to arrive at JFK International Airport sometime between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. New York time.

Human passengers on the flights received cupcakes and champagne cocktails dubbed “Chi-mosas” while their canine counterparts received doggie treats and toys, according to Virgin America officials.

San Francisco Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Deb Campbell thanked Virgin America for flying the dogs out at no cost.

“For a city shelter like ours, we have few resources and we’re getting more animals than ever because of the bad economy, so things like this create a solution and make a big difference in how we do our work,” she said.

Campbell said in the later part of 2009, Chihuahuas “made up a third of our population at any given time, and other Bay Area shelters said up to 60 percent of their dogs were Chihuahuas or Chihuahua mixes.”

She said the overpopulation was caused in part by popular culture, such as the 2008 film Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and also by “backyard breeders” who are irresponsible about how many dogs they breed.

“You can blame popular culture for promoting Chihuahuas as ideal dogs, and backyard breeders … are pumping them out to meet a demand, and go beyond that demand,” Campbell said.

Although there are too many Chihuahuas in California, supplies are not as high on the East Coast, which is what prompted the move.

Brand said “there’s a huge demand for small dogs” in New York. However, she said, ASPCA officials will hold onto the dogs for a week or so to do medical and behavioral evaluations and give the animals some time to adjust to their new surroundings.

The Chihuahuas should be available for adoption in New York sometime later next week, she said

Photo: Matt Ghali

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