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News / Clark County News

Kona vying to become Cadbury’s Easter Puppy

Hazel Dell Chihuahua, age 3, is taking part in a different kind of March Madness

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: March 7, 2024, 6:55pm
5 Photos
Kona, 3, a long-haired Chihuahua from Hazel Dell, is one of 32 pets recently selected as semi-finalists in the Cadbury Bunny tryouts.
Kona, 3, a long-haired Chihuahua from Hazel Dell, is one of 32 pets recently selected as semi-finalists in the Cadbury Bunny tryouts. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A local one-eyed Chihuahua is a semifinalist in a different kind of March Madness: the Cadbury Bunny contest.

Cadbury, which uses animals to promote its chocolate Easter eggs, announced Wednesday the 32 picks in its annual competition, including Kona, 3, a long-haired Chihuahua from Hazel Dell.

Kona will face off against Nina, a German shepherd mix from Santa Ana, Calif., in the first round of bracket-style voting, kicking off Monday. This is the first year Cadbury has used this style of voting. The winner, to be announced March 25, takes home a $7,000 cash prize and will be featured in a TV commercial for next year’s contest, according to Cadbury.

Kona’s owners, local photographer Jenna Van Valen and Vancouver attorney Jason Bailes, feel that in addition to Kona’s friendly personality, she’s a great ambassador for Chihuahua rescues.

“The fact that people are interested in this goofy, one-eyed Chihuahua gives me hope that someone else is going to go out and look to adopt dogs — they do kind of have a terrible reputation of being these little ankle-biters,” Van Valen said of Chihuahuas. “And they shouldn’t.”

Van Valen knows the competition is stiff, especially after a one-eyed cat won last year’s contest. She said she’s particularly nervous that Kona might get beat by a raccoon, which was selected as a finalist this year. There are also lizards, horses, a miniature donkey, a goat, a chicken, a guinea pig and a hamster, among others, in contention.

Kona is not the couple’s first rescue Chihuahua, nor their only one-eyed pet. They typically adopt senior Chihuahuas, and they don’t shy away from pets with health conditions.

“We like the challenges,” Van Valen said.

She knows most don’t think of the breed as one that’s particularly mellow and friendly, like Kona. She said she’s passionate about interrupting the trend of older Chihuahuas being put up for adoption.

“Chihuahuas and pit bulls are the two most common animals in shelters around the country, and they are also the two most commonly euthanized. And Chihuahuas, in particular, tend to get abandoned when they’re old, and their vet bills get expensive,” Van Valen said. “So, anytime we get an opportunity to tell people, ‘This is not the yappy little ankle-biter you think it is,’ it makes me really happy.”

Shortly before Christmas, Bailes took a peek at the dogs available at shelters in Seattle while he was in town for a conference. As soon as he saw Kona’s photo, he sent it to Van Valen. The couple had recently lost one of their pets, an 18-year-old Chihuahua named Piglet.

Van Valen flew to Seattle to meet Kona, and they immediately applied to adopt her. They learned her owner had died and she came from a home in Eastern Washington, where she was one of five dogs. When Kona got to the shelter, she had a bad eye, and she underwent surgery to remove it shortly after, Van Valen said.

At the time, Kona’s name was Bambi, but Van Valen said that didn’t suit her. They decided to name her Kona, partly for the region on Hawaii’s Big Island (in reference to Kona’s large size for her typically tiny breed) and as a reference to the Hawaiian restaurant Van Valen and Bailes went to in Seattle after meeting their soon-to-be pet.

While they brought Kona to their Hazel Dell house shortly before Christmas, her adoption wasn’t finalized until New Year’s Eve.

“She came home and acted like she’s always been there,” Van Valen said.

There’s a lot of support, Bailes said, among those who adopt rescue Chihuahuas, with some even offering help to pay others’ vet bills.

“There is actually a fascinating little community of Chihuahua rescuers on Instagram, so I like to think we’re all doing our part to say, ‘Please don’t dump these dogs just because they’re old. Please don’t let them get this bad reputation,’” Van Valen said. “They have so much personality, and they’re little Velcro dogs. They’re amazing companions, and I just think it’s a shame they get discarded so often.”

To vote in the semifinal contest, visit Cadbury’s Instagram, @cadburyusa.