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Science: Hot Dog

4 minute read

Visitors to Mexico are often affronted by dogs whose naked, blotchy skins look as if a loathsome disease had stripped them of their fur. Some of these creatures are really victims of mange or eczema, but others are more or less mixed descendants of the Xoloizcuintle,* the hairless, edible dog of the Aztecs. “Xolos” have been neglected until recently, but last week Norman P. Wright, a onetime British diplomat living in Mexico, was well on the way to establishing them as a rare, high-fashion breed.

In pre-Spanish times the Xolos were important to Mexican Indians in many different ways. Young ones could be stuffed with corn and bananas and brought to a hoglike fatness. Since the Indians had no other domestic animals except turkeys and ducks, the fat, hairless Xolo puppies were a leading source of meat. They were raised in large numbers, and a famous dog market near Mexico City sold as many as 400 a week. The Spanish clergy tried to suppress this traffic, with only gradual success. For many years the Spanish, too. appreciated roast Xolo. Mexico’s famed painter Diego Rivera, who owns 45 hairless dogs, says he has eaten them and found them delicious.

Flealess at 104° F. When not used as food, the versatile Xolos had other uses. The Indians believed that they guided the souls of the dead to heaven. Yellow Xolos were best for this job, but those of other colors could roll in yellow mud and do almost as well. They were also useful as sacrifices, and were believed to have important medicinal powers. A Xolo’s temperature is 104° F., and his skin, bare of insulation, feels hot to the touch. These properties made him useful as a living hot-water bottle, and he harbored no more fleas than if he were made of rubber. When Dog-Fancier Wright began to study the hairless-dog situation, he found Mexico full of peculiar dogs, more or less hairless, and of various shapes and sizes. The few to be found in other countries were also nonstandardized. This is not what a breeder wants, so Wright made three long trips to the primitive parts of tropical Guerrero and managed to buy eight Xolos that matched old pictures and descriptions of the genuine Aztec breed. He found that in remote regions they are still used as hot-water bottles, but he was not offered any roasted puppies.

Chaperoned Breed. When freed of ticks and internal parasites, Wright’s eight Xolos throve and multiplied. In cooperation with the Asociación Canofila Mexicana (Mexican Kennel Club), he set up standards for the breed. A genuine Xolo should have no hair except a slight fuzz on the top of the head and the tip of the tail. The naked skin can be any color (dark brown or grey is commonest), but large blotches of pink are undesirable. The ears should stand up straight.

During the first year, the Kennel Club “recognized” only two of Wright’s carefully bred puppies. Later generations, carefully chaperoned, have approached the standard more closely. Now there are 22 recognized Xolos, and more on the way. Rules have been set up to keep unrecognized Xolos, even though of ancient Aztec ancestry, from sullying the breed. Buyers of the real McCoy must sign an agreement to destroy all nonstandard pups. No owner may breed his Xolo without consulting Wright’s committee.

Interest in Xolos is growing rapidly. Certified animals have been exported to the U.S. and England, and both the American and British Kennel Clubs are expected to recognize the breed. Soon, thinks Wright, the ancient dogs of the Aztecs will have an honored place beside furry and hairy dogs.

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