May 18, 2009 07:48 PM

Eli is living the high life as a pillar of Manhattan dog society. The 5-lb. Chihuahua goes out on the town two or three nights a week, often dressed in one of his nine tuxedos, while his date, PEOPLE Pets member Karen Biehl (mschiefmaker), wears a formal gown. “He likes it particularly when people are responding to him and think he’s cute,” Biehl says. “[Animals] know when you’re going aww over them.”

The 5-year-old pooch has a true rags-to-riches story. A few years ago his second owner was moving and tried to find him a home on Craigslist. Around the same time, Biehl just happened to be thinking of getting a small dog. She felt an instant connection to the little Chihuahua and now he’s a canine model and she’s a dog-world socialite.

It all started when she decided to enter him in a dog beauty contest, which they won. “I had tears in my eyes,” Biehl says. “I always thought pageants were so silly and I finally understood why people like them.” From there Eli went on to win more, like one that put his mug on the Milk-Bone dog-food box. After appearing in magazine spreads, she took the next step: she got him an agent. Now he models professionally and goes to lots of charity functions. He often rides on the subway in one of his many carriers, bringing smiles to scowling riders.

Whatever this duo does, Biehl says she makes sure they “send an image out that helps the dog world, especially shelters and rescue organizations.” The photogenic pooch has raised $6,700 for the American Cancer Society Dog Walk, done appearances for many shelters and pays top dollar to go to charity events for shelters, too. He also has a full social life with long-time friends from Chihuahua meet-ups. Whenever he sees fellow PEOPLE Pets member Ada Nieves (teamchiihuahua) “he squeaks and squeals, he’s so excited,” Biehl says.

Like any pet, Eli has his quirks. Because he was passed from home to home early in life, he sometimes experiences separation anxiety. “If I go away, he’ll shiver and shake,” Biehl says. Biehl also jokes that Eli sometimes has served as a “Chihuahua chastity belt,” sitting on her lap on dates and demanding equal affection. But she says he gets along fine with her current boyfriend.

And Biehl has advice for those who would like to get their dog into modeling: either get an agent or build up a resume through winning contests – online or in person. “A lot of it has to do with having fun with it,” she says. “If people are stressed out, that doesn’t go over well.” Most importantly, Biehl is just thankful to have Eli in her life. “I don’t know what it was like in the past,” she says, “but this is a great time to have a dog.”

Click here and become friends with Karen and Eli on PEOPLE Pets!

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