Mini dogs are the latest style statement
Carrying toy dogs like Chihuahuas, Yorkies or Maltese is the latest fad, courtesy Paris Hilton.Updated: Aug 29, 2005 16:23 IST
"He's a bit like an accessory, ... a trendy thing to carry around," New Yorker Susanna Chan, 33, says of her constant companion,a tiny ball of active fluff called Bibi.
Already prized pets in a city where living space is at a premium, toy dogs, Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese, Pomeranians,have emerged as the fashion statement of the season in the Big Apple, with the emphasis on size, or lack thereof.
"Everybody wants a little dog under their arm," said Nicole Rosenthal, sales manager at American Kennels, one of the most established canine stores in Manhattan.
Like so many fashions in New York, Rosenthal says the surge in demand for toy dog breeds is largely celebrity-driven.
"It's Paris Hilton! It just made it bigger," she said.
The walls bear witness to the store's celebrity clientele, with framed photos of the champion tennis sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, holding up a silver cup with their mini Yorkies inside, and of actress Brooke Shields with what looks like an outsize ball of cotton wool.
Fashion magazines, meanwhile, feature pictures of stars like pop princess Britney Spears and actress Scarlett Johansson fawning over their Chihuahuas, which have just broken into the list of the top 10 most popular breeds, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Toy dogs are by definition small, but pressure from buyers is pushing breeders to downsize still further by bringing together the tiniest breeding couples they can find to produce what have become known as "teacup" size offspring.
"When I first got him, he was two months old and could fit on my palm," Chan said of Bibi, a miniature Pomeranian. Now two years old, Bibi still weighs in at a featherweight four pounds (two kilos).
"People want something to take care of," Chan said by way of explaining the craze for the pets.
"A small dog is perfect because it's like a toy that you can carry everywhere, take out to play, and then, when you don't want it, put it back in the bag," she said.
For the busy owner like Chan,a financial analyst,smaller dogs also equal smaller effort.
"Because I work very long hours, I don't want to walk a dog everyday," she said. "Small dogs, they can just play in the house, and then they are happy."
Chan takes her canine companion everywhere, to the restaurant, the department store and even the office and the movie theater.
"I leave him in the bag. He's very well trained. ... He understands it's not proper to bark," she said.
Admirers, who are legion according to Chan, call him Little Prince "because he's very pretty." But royalty comes at a price, and a pet like Bibi costs 1,800 dollars to tuck under your arm.
At Rosenthal's store, dogs go for anywhere between 500 and 5,000 dollars, with "teacup" sizes among the most sought after.
According to New York magazine, hotel heiress Paris Hilton recently handed her well-known chihuahua, Tinkerbell, over to her mother's care because the tiny dog had literally outgrown its welcome.
Paris "only likes them when they're very small, and Tinkerbell got too big," the magazine cited a friend of Hilton's as saying.
In May, a New York woman received 1,000 dollars in damages from a dog store after the Maltese she purchased - on the understanding that it would never exceed five pounds (just over two kilos) - inexplicably ballooned to a horrifyingly unfashionable eight pounds (nearly four kilos).
"We can't absolutely guess (the weight)," said Rosenthal. "We can only go by the parents and the breeders."
Not everyone is enamoured with the prospect of miniaturising toy dogs through selective breeding, and the AKC refuses to officially recognise the "teacup" size.
"When the breeders make the dogs smaller than they should be, you start running into problems," said AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson.
"Just say a Maltese is supposed to be six pounds and you try to breed one that is two pounds, then how do you fit all the teeth and the organs into a dog that small?" she said.
Mini mutts also require a substantial outlay on accessories, with owners advised against carrying them in their normal handbags because of the risk of suffocation.
American Kennels and other stores now boast XXXS sections, with special handbag-sized dog carriers, as well as collars the size of a woman's bracelet, some of them encrusted with Swarovski crystals.
No fashion slouch himself, Bibi actually has three carrying bags - one for summer, one for winter and one "for special occasions" - as well as a selection of a half-dozen changes of clothing.
But despite Bibi's all-enveloping fur, Chan does draw the line at hairpins.
"Because he's a boy," she insists.
First Published: Aug 29, 2005 16:23 IST