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Chewie went from being one of too many homeless Chihuahuas in Arizona to internet stardom.
In an internet full of adorable dogs, Chewbacca the Chihuahua somehow stands out from the pack. His expressive personality and hilariously crooked underbite draw in new Instagram followers every day, but not so long ago in a shelter far, far away from his new home, Chewie was entering a world where dogs like him have trouble getting noticed.
“We know they found him as a stray in Yuma, Arizona, so someone found him and brought him to the Humane Society there,” Chewie’s human, Sarah Gottlieb, explains from her home in California.
As a shelter dog, Chewie’s very future depended on his ability to capture the attention of potential adopters, but when he checked into the Humane Society of Yuma back in the fall of 2014, Chewie wasn’t likely to be popular. Afraid of quick movements and loud noises, Chewie had so many strikes against his adoptability. He was timid, older, bowlegged, prone to marking, had a mouth full of rotten teeth, and of course, he was a Chihuahua — the second most common breed found in Arizona’s busy shelters.
“The shelters are so full, they don’t have enough money to handle the medical costs that all of these dogs need,” says Sarah, who believes Chewie could have ended up on an euthanasia list if Chiquita Chihuahua Rescue hadn’t stepped in.
It was through the rescue grapevine that Chiquita’s founder, Roberta Gottlieb — who also happens to be Sarah’s mom — heard about Chewie and arranged to get him transferred out of the shelter and into the rescue’s care.
“When my mom got him to her rescue, he had a full vet check. He had to get fixed, he had 17 teeth pulled because his teeth were so bad. He only has seven teeth now,” says Sarah, who met Chewie a few weeks later when she and her partner flew out from California to visit family.
“She brought him to lunch with us the first day we got to Arizona, and my partner and I just looked at each other like, ‘Oh no, we’re going home with a dog.’ We hadn’t planned it at all.”
The connection was as strong as it was unexpected. Chewie seemed to blossom in the couple’s presence, even seeking out belly rubs from Sarah’s partner — something he’d not done for anyone else during his time in rescue. With a cat and another small dog at home already, Sarah hadn’t intended to add to their family, but the lifelong Chihuahua lover just couldn’t say no to that lopsided, seven-toothed smile. All the qualities that made Chewie unlikely to find love in a shelter made him perfect for her.
“If I could make up a dream dog, it would be Chewie,” she explains.
When Chewie got to California, he quickly bonded with his new dog sibling, Mollie the Maltipoo, but not before peeing on a few of her things.
“Even though he’s the smallest animal, he tried to claim everything right away,” Sarah jokes.
Despite the marking misstep, Chewie fit right into his new family. With belly bands to help with the marking and Thundershirts for his anxiety, Chewie gained a pound and some confidence. He quickly became the most photographed being in the household. When pictures of Chewie outstripped selfies on Sarah’s personal Instagram feed, she knew it was time to get him his own account, and eventually the little dog went viral. Sarah credits one particular photo with launching Chewie into meme history.
“I put the ramen noodles on his head with a picture of Justin Timberlake next to him. I just posted that one one day to be funny, and then I heard it kind of blew up on the internet. I had all these people telling me they saw his picture,” she recalls. “It’s funny, but it’s really weird. It’s like a whole different world really.”
Chewie is enjoying being the center of his new universe, but also manages to help other Chihuahuas who are still unnoticed and unloved. Chewie has personally influenced several Chiquita adoptions, and his favorite pet food company connected with Sarah through Instagram to offer coupons to Chiquita Chihuahua Rescue adopters. Chewie’s photos are all over social media and have been featured on sites like Buzzfeed and Mashable. The dog who struggled to get noticed in the shelter is now a 4-pound celebrity.
“I’m not letting it go to his head,” Sarah jokes.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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