Upon entering Casell Art Gallery (818 Royal St., 524-0671; www.casellgallery.com) it's hard to tell who's the bigger diva: the energetic woman behind the counter or the regal pup luxuriating on a pillow beside her. Both sport glitzy black top hats cocked at a jaunty angle and an over-the-top quality. Easily recognizable to the trained New Orleanian eye, the duo consists of socialite Margarita Bergen and her almost equally well-known pooch, Duchess Chiquita Linda Bergen. "I never thought I'd love a bitch," Bergen says solemnly, "but Chiquita is the joy of my life."
Bergen was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. She moved to the United States in 1962 to pursue a degree in bilingual education and school administration at City College in New York. Owing to her Caribbean upbringing, Bergen revels in New Orleans' relaxed attitude toward life in general and dogs in particular. She loves that Chiquita is welcome almost everywhere she goes, including shops, restaurants and parties. "I think (much of) the United States is very discriminatory about where they allow dogs," Bergen says, explaining that she moved to Spain for a brief period so she could tote her previous dog, Tito, wherever she pleased.
A miniature Doberman pinscher, Tito was "like the child (Bergen) never had." When he died at age nine from "too much foie gras and filet mignon at Galatoire's," Bergen was devastated. Attempting to console Bergen, a friend offered her a teacup Chihuahua from an abandoned litter she'd rescued. Bergen was reluctant to accept, because Chihuahuas have a reputation for being shrill and hyper. However, after one fateful look at little black-, white- and brown-speckled Chiquita, Bergen was enamored. "I named her (Chiquita) because it means 'little pretty one,'" Bergen says.
On the day of her photo shoot, Chiquita was decked out in a custom-made polka-dot dress, with painted nails to accentuate the ensemble. As the social editor for New Orleans Living magazine, Bergen makes numerous appearances at parties, accompanied by Chiquita (in a matching gown), and she and Chiquita even held a charity event — a wedding — to raise money for the fight against animal cruelty. "Yes, Chiquita is a married woman," Bergen says. "She was married ... in a $2,000 wedding dress, by an ordained minister in front of over 200 guests."
What's next on three-year-old Chiquita's bustling social agenda? Having already checked "being a Duchess for the Krewe of Bacchus" off her bucket list, Chiquita now aspires to be appointed Bacchus Krewe Queen for Mardi Gras 2012. The petition to crown Chiquita is already in motion on the dog's Facebook page.
After visiting with Chiquita, who sat quietly and demurely on her throne and even deigned to be petted, it is apparent why Bergen is so staunchly against the misconceptions about Chihuahuas having high-strung temperaments: "Chiquita is perfect in social situations. She gives me so much unconditional love, and not only is she calm, but she keeps me calm," Bergen says. "The Chihuahua is a breed I would recommend to everyone."
My FAVORITE THINGS...
Hanging with Momma
My plush doggie toy
Parties, parties, parties!