They waited outside the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals headquarters on E. 92nd St. with pure hearts: They were there to adopt chihuahuas. But there were 150 people and only 15 chihuahuas. Things got weird.
Last week, 15 chihuahua were flown, with much fanfare, from shelters in California to the ASPCA in New York on Virgin America. They fled grim prospects in a state with a glut of chihuahua as massive as its budget deficit—the result of Paris Hilton worship plus "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" plus Californians' natural childishness and inability to have nice things. The media spin was: Big-hearted New Yorkers would save the dogs from Californians who treated them like handbags with legs. Today, the dogs would be adopted and New York would win.
At noon, about 150 chihuahua-starved New Yorkers lined the sidewalk outside the ASPCA, lured by the many media reports. The Russian guy at the head of the line, a retired Museum of Natural History security guard, had been there since 7:40 AM. His nose was so red it looked injured. He said he likes chihuahuas because "You can take them in hand and make them happy." (He got his chihuahua—see above.) Another woman liked how chihuahuas were easy to maintain. "They're a wash-and-wear dog," she said.
This was likely the biggest congregation of New York chihuahua fans ever. "Yorkies reign in New York," said Angela, a retired bookkeeper. She was holding her chihuahua, Peanut, which was shivering even though it was wearing a red sweater. Angela seemed resolute in spite of the cold and the 30 people in front of her, but Peanut looked like she was about to shake her bones apart. "I just know I'm going to get one," Angela said. "I have a lot of love in my family and I want to give a dog a happy home."
Nearby, a construction worker named Joe was less certain. "This is a fucking joke," Joe said. "In the paper they said there were hundreds of chihuahua. Now they tell us there are only 15?" His girlfriend said, "You need to stop talking, Joe." Joe stared straight ahead. "This whole freaking thing is bullshit," Joe said. "I took time off work. We should bum rush the doors."
Then something started happening in the middle of the line; people were yelling "chihuahuas!" chihuahuas!" Jesus. Were they actually going to do it? Was this going to be the Great Manhattan Chihuahua Stampede of 2010?
No: they were yelling at an MTA bus-driver, slowly cruising his empty bus down the line. He wanted to know what was going on, and they were trying to tell him. "I can't stand chihuahuas!" he yelled out the door. "Come on, get a pit-bull! Forget about a chihuahua!"
By 12:30, a lot of people in line had forgotten about a chihuahua and gone home. Inside, the lobby of the ASPCA had the feel of an Emergency Room post-bus crash. The dozen or so potential adopters who had made it in were filling out paperwork. They seemed tense and worried, like the families of survivors in ICU. Just outside the door, in front of an RV with a giant picture of a cat on it, an ASPCA staffer was trying to convince a man to look at other breeds of small dogs. A woman held two Styrofoam cups of hot water, her arms splayed helplessly.
"Did anyone get a dog yet?" she asked. "I didn't see anyone come out with a dog yet!"