2010 USA Today

Her show earned killer reviews, and solid ratings, in its premiere last week.

But one thing is missing from the CW series Nikita, headlined by lithe actress Maggie Q.

“Nikita needs a dog. She needs to be on a mission and find one, a rescue,” says Q, sitting near the East River and stopping to pet a friendly Dachshund being walked past her. “She needs a mutt from the streets, who’s like her and went through a lot and is angry and is trying to be hot.”

Actually, she’s succeeding. And then some. Q’s Nikita is a deadly operative who escaped from a top-secret agency known as the Division that trained her to be a spy and an assassin. Now, she’s out for revenge. The show (tonight, 9 ET/PT), which averaged 3.6 million viewers last week, is loosely based on Luc Besson’s acclaimed 1990 French thriller La Femme Nikita but has nothing to do with either its U.S. remake Point of No Return or the subsequent spinoff series starring Peta Wilson, Q says.

“I’ve only seen the original because I really wasn’t interested in the remakes of it,” says Q, 31. “The idea of this incredibly flawed heroine was incredibly interesting, and no one had done it. In the ’90s, it was new and controversial. I really respected the original vision.”

And like Nikita, who gets a second chance at life, Q believes that all living beings deserve a shot. She has been active with PETA Asia-Pacific and supports shelter adoptions. Her home in Los Angeles is a haven for rehabbed four-legged creatures.

“At one point I had eight dogs, and they were all rescues. Some, I was fostering. Four of them stayed with me. I like big problem dogs and I like to fix them, or try. I don’t like to give up on dogs. We should all get a fair chance,” she says.

Earlier, she frolicked with mutts Crow, Cindy Lou and Winnie at the Bideawee shelter on the east side of the city. She doesn’t mind that Winnie can’t stop jumping on her.

“Winnie needs a walk,” Q remarks, looking at the hyper beagle mix, who carries quite a hefty girth. “She’s had a little too much to eat.”

As a child growing up in Hawaii, Q says, “we never bought dogs. We rescued. That’s what I grew up with.”

Today, she has three dogs, after a fourth recently died. Her Chihuahua, Pedro, is with her in Toronto, where she shoots her series, while her two German shepherd mixes, Lady and Caesar, remain in L.A. with her boyfriend. Though most of Q’s time is taken up with her series, she’s devoting her day off to finding Pedro a pal.

“Pedro is 12. He has the biggest attitude problem, but he’s so cute,” Q says with a grin. “I was looking to adopt a senior dog that would go well with Pedro in Toronto, and I just looked up a girl. She’s totally blind.”

That’s no big deal to Q, who tries to look beneath the surface. She hopes viewers do the same with Nikita. Yes, she looks sensational in a bikini, but her appeal goes deeper than that sexy scarlet swimsuit.

“The original character was something of a machine. She didn’t know how to emote. You’re going to see a lot of what pains her,” Q says.

What does Q (full name Maggie Denise Quigley) make of being the only Asian-American actress carrying a major series on prime-time TV?

“I couldn’t believe they hadn’t given an Asian-American the lead before. That was shocking,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s as simple as breaking stereotypes, but in some ways, the ideas about minorities in Hollywood have not changed.” Asian-Americans are “never the lead or the person who could carry something. I think we’re ushering in a new era of thinking.”