Not too many dogs can say they have thousands of friends, but Mervin the Chihuahua is an exceptional pooch. With 8,700 Facebook friends and more than 30,000 Instagram followers, this tiny New York City resident is experiencing a surge in popularity. These days, Mervin is fast approaching Internet celebrity status — everybody wants a piece of him — but just a couple years ago that wasn’t the case. Back in October 2013, Mervin was just another lonely stray at the ASPCA in NYC.
“He was there for almost three months,” explains one of Mervin’s dads, Joey Teixeira.
Teixeira had just started working at the ASPCA adoption center as the manager of client relations when he met the little dog who wasn’t very popular with potential adopters, thanks to a long list physical ailments.
“He wasn’t the easiest dog to deal with — because his legs were hurting him, his teeth were hurting him, he couldn’t eat right — so I think that contributed to him being in the shelter for so long.”
Before coming to the ASPCA, Mervin was found on the streets of East Harlem. He was emaciated and his back knees were badly damaged. It was clear his time on the streets had been rough, but staff at the ASPCA knew Mervin must’ve had a family at some point.
“A four-pound Chihuahua could never have alone survived in East Harlem for five years,” explains Teixeira. “So he definitely belonged to someone, but when he was brought into the shelter, he was unfortunately not microchipped, and sadly no one came looking for him.”
Without a family to claim him, Mervin remained in the care of the ASPCA. He gained the weight he was missing, and had all of his teeth removed to deal with extreme dental disease. He also had both of his failing back knees replaced.
“The orthopedic surgeon said they were some of the worst knees that she had ever seen,” Teixeira recalls.
Eventually, Teixeira brought Mervin home as a foster dog and fell in love. The temporary arrangement became permanent after Mervin worked his magic on his new dad.
“He kind of fit right in with my other dogs, and here we are a year and a half later.”
Mervin also got along with Lily the cat and Teixeira’s now-fiance Michael. As Mervin settled in, the couple took some pics of the new addition interacting with the family, and the photos proved popular in their social media circles.
“The response was a really positive one. Everybody loved him, so I decided to make him his own [Instagram account], and it just kind of took off,” says Teixeira. “Then we started getting contacted by companies and stuff like that. He’s actually done work with the ASPCA on a national spay/neuter campaign and also on a campaign to fight dog fighting — it really just snowballed into a big thing.”
Mervin’s human hopes that the Chihuahua’s snowballing fame can make a dent in the nationwide puppy mill problem. According to Teixeira, the horrible condition of Mervin’s teeth when he arrived at the ASPCA suggests the little dog was the product of a puppy mill, as many mill dogs inherit poor dental genes through bad breeding practices.
That’s why Mervin is participating in an anti-puppy mill social media campaign this month, joining recent Dogster Hero Dogly (an app for dog lovers to snap and share photos of their pups while also supporting a favorite animal shelter) for #TongueOutSpeakOut. During the month of August, the hashtag can be added to the #ToungeOutTuesday pics Dogly users post to social media to spread awareness about why so many puppy mill dogs suffer poor dental health.
“The fact that Mervin had to lose all of his teeth — that’s a very common thing with puppy mill dogs.”
Despite his lack of teeth and his special wet-food diet, Mervin hasn’t lost his love for crunchy kibble, and decided to supplement his soupy diet by stealing hard food from his fur siblings.
“I don’t know how he is able to chew it, but he steals their little kibbles, and then he runs and hides and eats them,” says Teixeira, who now mixes a few hard bites in with Mervin’s special diet.
Other than his food issues and the fact that he can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) jump off furniture, Mervin is a pretty regular pooch.
“He’s a very resilient little dog; he doesn’t let anything hold him back,” says Teixeira, who carries his little companion around NYC in a bag.
“As soon as Mervin sees me pull out a bag, he runs over and tries to jump in it,” he explains. “At the same time he loves to go on long walks and be a normal dog.”
Mervin’s human describes the popular pup as a feisty little guy, and it’s obvious he’s made a big impact on Teixeira, who says he was never a Chihuahua person before he met Mervin but now considers himself a big fan of the little breed.
“We haven’t officially announced it yet, but I am another foster failure,” admits Teixeira. “Mervin has another little brother named Jack, who is a two-and-a-half-pound little Chihuahua.”
While Mervin grows into his new role as a big brother, he’s also growing into his always-expanding role as an animal advocate.
“We really want to use his fame to really push adoption and shutting down puppy mills and dog fighting rings, and to push animal rights in general.”
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer 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. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.v