SALT LAKE CITY — Want a "Hollywood" dog?
Thousands of Chihuahuas and other small homeless dogs from Los Angeles have successfully been adopted into Utah homes, thanks to a special program.
Animal shelters and puppy mills have overrun Southern California with small dogs in recent years. To avoid having to euthanize the surplus, some are regularly sent to Salt Lake, Denver and a few other Western cities in hopes of finding permanent homes.
This is a cooperative effort between the Heigl Foundation, Best Friends LA and the Humane Society of Utah.
The Heigl Foundation was started by the Hollywood actress and her mother, to honor Heigl's brother, Jason, a dog lover who was killed in a car accident.
Katherine Heigl is best-known for her role as Dr. Izzie Stevens on "Grey's Anatomy."
"Jason passed away in a car accident at the age of 15," said Jessica Cliver, the foundation's director. "He was a huge animal lover, so Katherine and her mother, Nancy, started this foundation in his honor to serve homeless animals throughout the world."
Chosen by Best Friends of Los Angeles, 30 Chihuahuas are sent every two weeks to the Humane Society of Utah, where small dogs are in greater demand.
Since the program began in 2008, some 2,000 dogs have been rescued, finding their "forever homes" in the Beehive State.
According to the Humane Society's rescue coordinator, Jessica Almeida, "People were on waiting lists to adopt dogs we didn't have. … So we started this program in 2008, and now we take about 30 dogs every two weeks. I hope that by offering adoptable small dogs, we are affecting the number of dogs purchased from pet stores and newspaper ads and putting a dent in the demand from puppy mills."
Almeida initially contacted Robin Harmon, the adoption manager for Best Friends Los Angeles, which obtained a grant from the Jason Heigl Foundation to cover the cost of transporting dogs to Utah. Thirty dogs are driven from California in a van and meet Humane Society personnel in a St. George park for the transfer. The dogs are then taken to Salt Lake for a chance at a new life.
Harmon said the exchange program with the Humane Society "is very rewarding. It's a lot of hard work, but you can save lives. I know they're going to good homes in Salt Lake. It's a wonderful feeling. … Your heart is so happy these dogs are off to a wonderful new life."
No one is happier to see these small dogs get a chance at a new life than Lance Hunter, the animal-control manager of Los Angeles County's Baldwin Park Shelter.
"This has picked up the morale of our staff … having these volunteers come in and work their magic, taking the animals to find homes and be wonderful companions."
Humane Society of Utah spokesman Carl Arky said it's unclear why Salt Lake has a high demand for smaller dogs. He speculates the reason may be that more people are moving into apartments or homes with small yards these days and therefore favor smaller canines.
Heigl was spotted in Park City last week at an animal-adoption event, according to Arky. At the Petco there, she quietly and without any fanfare played for a long time with some of the dogs before making a donation and leaving.