A bald and practically barkless canine from Mexico is becoming the hot dog in America, where pups can now fetch $2,000 (£1,400) each.
Xoloitzcuintles (pronounced "show-low-eats-queen-tlees") are muscular cousins to the miniature chihuahua, and can grow as big as a doberman. The Mexican hairless has become suddenly trendy as an asthma-friendly apartment pet with an intriguing pre-Hispanic heritage.
These xolo dogs have been posed as exotic props at the latest New York fashion shoots, a sort of post-modern poodle that never needs to be clipped. There's even a cameo role for one butch xolo opposite the Hollywood actress Salma Hayek in a new bio-pic of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who doted on a pair of the odd creatures.
Half a dozen descendants of this artist's pets romp on the grounds of a converted convent in Xochimilco, alongside albino peacocks and a flock of ducks. Dolores Olmedo, who has an extensive collection of paintings and pre-Colombian folk art here, was given her first xolo by Frida Kahlo's husband, the artist Diego Rivera, back in 1955. She has coddled 30 of these rare dogs over the years. Less than 6,000 xolo dogs are thought to exist, although Mexican breeders now have the cash incentive to put their studs on double duty.
"I used to keep different breeds of dogs, but none were as intelligent ," Dolores Olmedo, the octogenarian art collector, told me. "These are the two most important things, intelligence and loyalty."
A spry charcoal-coloured dog, which sports a white forelock rather like Jerry Lee Lewis's quiff, bounds up on her velvet couch. Oddly enough,this particular Mexican hairless is shedding, but Ms Olmedo strokes her pug-nosed pet indulgently and ignores the long strands from his tail tuft and forelock that litter the armrest. Later, she shows off a collection of 40 ancient ceramic pots from Colima, which portray xolo dogs in whimsical poses. Xolo puppies are born with comically baggy skin and, even though they grow into it quickly, an expressively wrinkled brow remains. No rawhide bones are tossed to these sensitive pooches, who are apt to break their teeth if they gnaw on anything tougher than a carrot or cucumber.
The dogs once were considered a delicacy by the Aztecs, who would fatten up young xolos for the cooking pot. Even a tendency for tears to streak poignantly down the dog's leathery cheeks did not cut back on the consumption of their succulent flesh, which was supposed to ward off rheumatism.
Merchants held great seasonal banquets where spicy communal recipes required up to 40 puppies, and greased puppies were periodically offered up to angry gods. A single sacrificial hound would be eaten in the dog days of drought. Priests used slime from xolo dogs' eyes to see the departed souls, and their blood was hoarded because it was reputed to revive the dead .
The Xolo's furless skin feels so warm to the touch some Mexicans still prefer to use these canine companions in bed like a four-legged hot water bottle. Xolo dogs often were buried alongside the Aztec dead to guide their souls across a river to "Mictlan", the afterworld.
Bright sunlight takes its toll on pale-skinned or mottled xolos, and many costly pets won't be allowed out for walkies without being slathered with sunblock. Status symbols are notoriously unpredictable, but there are few less likely than a bald Mexican dog that requires factor 10, or a sweater whenever it gets nippy. Ay chihuahua!Reuse content