Virgin America Schools Every Other Airline on What Compassion Looks Like

“Operation Chihuahua” flies dogs in need from coast to coast

By Si Si Penaloza

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Virgin America, you had us at “Operation Chihuahua.” This past spring, Virgin America announced they would be assisting the City of San Francisco Animal Care and Control by flying Chihuahuas in need from San Francisco to the New York area to be adopted quickly into loving homes. While the overpopulation of Chihuahuas in California seems like a fun Instagram feed, the reality is no laughing matter. The high numbers of unwanted pups are forcing animal shelters on the West Coast to look to shelters on the East Coast for help. As San Francisco’s hometown airline, this is Virgin America’s sixth flight of shelter dogs since their partnership with SF ACC first began in 2010.

Virgin America’s “Official Pet Liaison,” Boo, and the Bay Area’s very own Dog Mayor of San Francisco, Frida, hosted a special St. Patrick’s Day green carpet send-off at the departure gate at San Francisco International Airport for these lucky “rescutes” before they began their journey – complete with green doggie treats and plenty of toys to play with until departure time.

I am not ashamed to admit, I shed a popcorn tub’s worth of tears when the photos and videos from this compassionate airlift hit my timeline. It was Boo that pushed me over the edge (I weep when he posts about #StopYulin too). Boo is a smooth brand ambassador, but even more impressive, he is the world’s most effective activist who also happens to be a Pomeranian.

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Like the precious cargo they are, the Chihuahuas were received at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) by the ASPCA. Virgin America volunteers escorted the Chihuahuas on the flight and tracked their journey with real-time, in-flight updates using the hashtag #OperationChihuahua on the airline’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Probing into this overpopulation issue, I discovered the dark side of pop culture’s effect on animals. California has more Chihuahuas than it can handle – this breed makes up 30% of the dog population at many state shelters — and experts blame Hollywood. Fans love to imitate the selfies of Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandon the dogs once their followers get bored or it proves too much of a commitment. Chihuahuas are the most popular breed of dog in Los Angeles, so it makes sense it is also the most abandoned breed.

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Chihuahuas are cuddly, but obviously more fragile than stockier breeds. Shelters see a lot of abuse of this breed, as animal cruelty offenders think nothing of kicking a small, yappy dog. They can be abused by kids playing too roughly or getting sandwiched by a Grandpa who isn’t wearing his glasses. Vets have seen injuries from toddlers snapping a Chihuahua’s leg as if it were a chicken wing.

I salute Virgin America for shining a spotlight on this specific breed and the hardship they face due to our selfishness and need for instant gratification. I challenge another airline to take on the plight of Greyhounds. Spread the sponsorship, spread the philanthropy.