NEW YORK — New York is, like, totally awesome -- especially if you're a Chihuahua abandoned in California.
Fifteen of these goggle-eyed living toys, best known for inhabiting the handbags of Paris Hilton and other Hollywood B-listers, became New Yorkers Wednesday after being rescued from the West coast.
The evacuation was in response to what the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) calls the "massive overpopulation of Chihuahuas in California."
Diane Wilkerson, director of the ASPCA volunteer program, blamed a change in Hollywood trends and the sour economy for the increase in homeless Chihuahuas.
But "small dogs are very, very popular here in New York, so there seemed to be a really nice way New York could work with this," she said.
The rescue operation maintained the luxurious standards to which the breed is famously accustomed.
All 15 flew in the cabin of a Virgin America jet from San Francisco last week and took up residence at the shiny ASPCA headquarters in Manhattan.
By Wednesday, 11 of them -- Bebop, Honey, Hancock, Annie, Jeb, Colette, Tina, Orlando, Bella, Holly and Nalla -- were ready to choose new owners.
More than 100 New Yorkers lined up in icy temperatures to get their chance. Some waited from 8:00 am to midday to be sure.
"They got famous. I watched them on Channel 2, Channel 7, Channel 4," said Oleg, 62, a Russian immigrant at the front of the line.
"The dog I take will be really lucky," he said in his still pronounced accent. "He's going to live with me and sleep next to my bed."
Amoura Leigh, 21, planned even greater delights for her dream Chihuahua.
Leigh, sporting pink hair, pink eyebrows and studs through her bottom lip, said Chihuahuas are perfect pets "because they like to be held and I like to hold them."
"And dress them up," she added. "A pink rhinestone collar, oh yes!"
A Chihuahua in a pet store can cost anything from 700 to 1,400 dollars, dog lovers in the queue said, so a free animal is a big attraction.
But while Chihuahuas are small, they require looking after -- a realization that may have led fashion-crazed Californians to dump their pets in shelters.
"They're not accessories," Wilkerson said. "The novelty wears off. They think this isn't fun anymore."
Also the little beasts have a real attitude.
"They're aggressive and very protective of owners. They love to snap," said Mari Anna Ficco, 45, as she waited in line. "They also like to dress up. They know they're cute. They're drama queens."
The ASPCA required would-be owners to answer an 18-point questionnaire on what they expected from a dog -- play with children, catch balls, guard the house, relax, and so on.
Then prospective owners and dogs were brought together while staff watched for interaction -- or incompatibility.
From there, events moved quickly.
Oleg became upset because someone behind him in the line beat him to selecting the dog that had caught his eye.
"I wanted the brown one," he complained.
"It's already gone. It's happening fast," an ASPCA staffer said, trying to keep calm in a corridor crowded with people and animals.
Another four dogs were held back while minor health problems are attended to.
One called Sherlock had "elevated enzymes and a bit of a dental issue," a staffer said. Sherlock would be ready to go in a few days, but in the meantime he would benefit from the ASPCAs on-site veterinary hospital.
Oleg, who finally picked Tina, a dark-haired one-year-old, joked: "They say sometimes that dogs are looked after better than people."
But not everyone in New York went gaga over the cuties.
"I can't stand Chihuahuas!" yelled a passing bus driver through his window.
"Go get a pit bull!"
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