Meet a Member: Ada Nieves's Talented Chihuahuas Lead a Hollywood Life
It began in 2002, when Nieves got her first two Chihuahuas, naming them Salty and BonBon. "I love Chihuahuas," says Nieves. "They're lap dogs and great companions." Sadly, Salty passed away when she was just 1, leaving Nieves alone with BonBon. Nieves's husband, seeing his wife upset, bought her another Chihuahua named Vanilla just two days before leaving for Iraq. By the time her husband, a National Guardsman, returned, Nieves had completely fallen in love with the breed. "My husband got me Tequila and Tabasco as Valentine's Day presents," says Nieves. And Mojito, a 5-month-old Chihuahua, is the fifth and most recent addition to the family.
Soon her coterie of Chihuahuas was famous, thanks to one fateful party in 2004. A photographer at a shower for Vanilla invited Nieves and the pup to a photo shoot at the Ritz-Carlton hotel near Central Park. "Vanilla ended up being on the cover of New York Dog magazine," says Nieves, who – at the same party – made a name for herself thanks to her dog treats. "Everybody wanted to know where I had bought the doggy birthday cake and cookies," says Nieves, who had made the goodies herself using a blend of chicken and cream cheese. People began ordering the freshly baked pastries for their own dogs, leading Nieves to start a business making customized doggy birthday cakes and cookies. Celebrity dog owners Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Beyonce chose Nieves to make cakes and cookies when they threw a joint birthday party for their dogs.
Naturally, Nieves next dipped a paw in the fashion world. After the 2005 Academy Awards, Nieves – now one of the first graduates of the Fashion Institute of Technology's Pet Product Design and Marketing certification program – made exact replicas of the periwinkle blue dress worn by Kate Winslet, a strapless red gown worn by Renee Zellweger, and the yellow dress with a giant bow bustle worn by Penelope Cruz. Photographs of her dog Vanilla – the only female Chihuahua of the bunch – modeling the gowns appeared in the New York Post. The morning shows started calling, including Good Morning America and Today. "Back then, none of the things in doggy fashion that you see now were happening," explains Nieves. "I was a curiosity."
From there, things took on a "domino effect," says Nieves. She began getting calls for her Chihuahuas to appear in everything from TV commercials to print ads for Nordstrom Department Store and Reebok. Three-year-old Tequila is the exclusive fit model for Ralph Lauren's line of dog clothing. "If you go into a store and see Ralph Lauren dog clothes in 'extra-small,' those are based on Tequila's measurements," says Nieves. Tequila's wedding to a Chihuahua named Coco was even featured on the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet, while Vanilla's nuptials in Central Park to PEOPLEPets.com member and doggy socialite, Eli was reported in local newspapers.
Her Chihuahuas are so busy and in demand that each of them has their own agent to manage their careers. "My dogs love the attention they get when they're working," says Nieves.
Each has its own distinct personality, says Nieves. Mojito, who weighs a whopping 1-lb., is very loving and loves to run and play, she says. Vanilla is very much a diva, BonBon is the most obedient, Tequila the most stubborn, and Tabasco, the only champion Chihuahua in New York City, can't be bothered when he's not in front of the cameras, but is the most professional at work. Two years ago, Tabasco qualified to show at the venerable Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the most prestigious purebred dog competition in the country, but broke his leg just two weeks before the event.
Her youngest pup, Mojito, hopes to follow his siblings' careers in show business and will be appearing on shows for the cable network, Animal Planet. "They love getting praise; it makes them happy," Nieves says of her dogs. "I don't know if they know they're 'modeling,' but they do know they get treats for what they do."
Meet more PEOPLE Pets members:
Meet a Member: Boots the Rescued Chicken Becomes Beloved Family Pet
Meet a Member: 20-Year-Old 'Reptile Guy' Rescues Exotic Animals