Mystery of my Hairless Chihuahua- Solved!

I first started a blog of the same name in 2009, but on a different carrier.  I had recently come into a 3 month old, “Mexican Hairless Chihuahua”. I had known about these dogs for decades because my family took a vacation in Mexico the summer of 1955-56. We were driving down the Western side of Mexico to Mexico City, then returning through the inland route through Chihuahua. We spent a night in Mazatlan and saw some naked dogs on the streets. They were unique enough to remember when I encountered the name Mexican Hairless for this breed of dogs through looking at Diego Rivera’s mural at San Francisco State College. This enormous mural resides in the Diego Rivera Theater on that college’s campus. It must be 20’ high, by 50’ high. No photo I found goes all the way down the left hand side to the very corner, where the dogs are. I googled the dogs at some point and spent a few hours reading about them. I was intrigued and had vague wish to get one someday.

Diego-Rivera-Mural-SFstate

A year or two later, I saw an ad in a local online free classified ad including dogs. I wanted a small dog to replace my deceased “deer Chihuahua”, so I occasionally looked at dog ads. One day there was an ad that offered a “hairless Chihuahua” for $100. It was right in my own far SW-side neighborhood, so I went over there.

There were two of these pups both the solid gray/black color. One had longer legs, she had beautiful proportions. She looked like a deer, a deer Chihuahua without hair. Just when I got there, the breeder arrived and was extremely upset. She had been negotiating with animal control to get or keep a license for a kennel and had been refused. She had just come back from losing an appeal. At this moment, Animal control was coming out to get all except the legal number of dogs. She had only a 48 hours to remove the dogs. I quickly realized that if this dog went to animal control, it would have been grabbed up by the hairless rescue people, as they had priority for the hairless dogs that arrive at the pound- or the humane society. I had managed to see this dog before she was taken beyond my ability to get her from this back yard breeder – or puppy farm.  I felt like I had just short-circuited a series of shakeups before she was rehomed. As she was very high strung and insecure, I have always been glad she only had two homes, her breeder and ours.

i1035 FW1.1Now that I had her, I googled hairless Chihuahuas and hairless dogs, including Xoloitzquintles. I got a book, “Hairless dogs: the Naked Truth”. There were many directions to follow up on after reading that book.

First, I followed the gene itself and learned that it had been analyzed by a renowned scientist in Switzerland. Tosso Lieb who determined it was a semi-dominant gene that had appeared as a mutation in Mexico, at least 3 thousand years ago. This effectively cancelled any claims that any  hairless dogs were from China. Or Africa. Still, I was shocked, because the Chinese Crested’s descriptions on the AKC site that same day, said they were from China and were vermin killers who went with Chinese on boats to prevent the plague by killing rats in the 14 hundreds- except back then no one knew rats carried the plague, and other errors were also made. So that opened a skeptical side in me that needs to cut through the myths and another ??? about the AKC.

I was doing research on Chihuahuas too. I have several books on the origins of the breed. I was reading histories that mention naked dogs when the Spaniards arrived. I found an old book on kindle wherein  the author, Allan Glover of Harvard, writing at the beginning of the 20th century analyzed the literature and art of dogs in the history of America and got a very realistic map of what kind of native dogs lived where.

dog map 001
Native American Dog map

But the more I got information on Chihuahuas from the breed founders’ own words and overlaid them on the maps PFerd III made based on Glover’s work  I saw the Chihuahua breed founders were getting dogs from the area renowned for Techichi dogs, 10 pound dogs from far northern Mexico and Southwestern US from Texas to California, who all lived in the desert. So of course I had to pay more attention to techichi dogs -as well as all the other 10 pound small dogs occurring in every corner of North America. It was just the southwestern ones that were called Techichi, which was a Nahuatl disparaging word for the little dogs of the Chichimeca, barbarians of their far north.

300px-Uto-Aztecan_langs

I already knew that Itzquintle was the Nahautl word for their own dogs. I took an introductory course in Nahuatl on You Tube twice, because it came in two versions. I began to put the Itzquintle on the map Pferd III had made wherever there were Uto-Aztecan languages, of which Nahuatl was a major branch. This language family covers most of the America west of the Mississippi, except coastal California and the far north. Itzquintles were the common dog of the Nahuatl related tribes in America and mostly had short hair. They probably weren’t called Iztquintles locally no matter how close the language was to ancient Nahuatl, but since Mexico City was always the center of the Americas, whatever it was called at the time, it is convenient to use the classic Nahuatl terms to refer to the larger collective of the Uto-Aztecan language base.

By this time I had seen in several places, references that the Techichi dogs came in 3 varieties, Short hair, long hair, and hairless. This made sense to me, when I finally discovered an old woman in her advanced 80’s, another back yard breeder, I suppose, who had kept Mexican Hairless Chihuahuas since the 1950’s. I interviewed her a couple of times though she was in feeble health. She had been part of gatherings of Xolos  in Tucson, in the 50’s, but never joined the newly organizing Xolo club because they didn’t prefer or allow toy sized dogs. That first club died and she never tried to join the second xolo breed club either. Her stock came from the Tucson/Sonora Desert, (where they were known, even if uncommon, and recorded by Easterners since the 1850s).  She insisted the Xoloitzquintle name was an invented breed name by the breed club of the same name, and they had done a lot of refining in the in-club breeding.

She did not have Xoloitzquintles, she had Mexican Hairless, which was always the name, long before the Xoloitzquintle name was formalized. It still refers to the out of club hairless dogs. She told me that she grew up with the hairless dogs which used to be far more common around Tucson. Her grandmother had one. Just about every extended Mexican family had one, back when. This wasn’t much, but combined with all the other strands in this weaving, it was all fitting together, however loosely.

Hairless Chihuahua was  a modern name for the so-called Techichi dogs 9-12 lbs, that used to live in the northern deserts along the border, mostly inside today’s US boundaries. They used to be locally called “perros sin pelo’, or hairless dogs. Only the 9-12 pound range was known in Tucson since my breeder friend was born during the thirties, so I expect that since the techichis were of similar size, we had the same dog. This dog was not known as “techichi” by the locals, that was the Meshica pejorative term, but simply as perros sin pelo, because all the native dogs were 8-12 lbs in the first standard deviation, but had unlimited colors and short hair, long hair or – very little hair.

Thus, I achieved fulfillment in my quest for the truth about the hairless Chihuahua. Indeed! I also learned about the development of the Chihuahua and the Chinese Crested breeds within the AKC, the problems of all the big dog institutions, plus  so much about all the native dogs, that I expanded my blogs to include all these topics.

If you want to see what I have been doing on my new blog, go to  www.techichi.org

2 Comments

Lynn Balaski

What a great article! I live in Alberta, Canada (cold winters, of course) and have always adored Chinese Cresteds and Xolos, the toy type. There are a number of breeders of Chinese Crested here in Alberta. Someone is selling a “hairless Chihuahua” on Kijiji, and I’d heard of them, so Googled them, and that’s how I stumbled upon your article. I’d love to get this little guy, but my 8 year old (haired) Chihuahua wouldn’t appreciate it. She’s not a fan of other dogs. 🙂 And though I love them, I do feel bad for hairless breeds up here in Canada. Hard to believe, but I adopted a (very hairy) Chinese Crested a number of years ago, and he was flown here from New York City. Long story why. I didn’t know much about the breed then. Turns out the boy I brought up was fostered by the author of “The Naked Truth”, Amy Fernandez. She was involved in the Xolo Rescue Group that had him. I still have all the paper work with her name and info. on it. Isn’t that something? I really should order the book before it’s no longer in print.

Reply

Kate Williams

Thank you. I think it is one of my best posts, most of which ramble and are what I was thinking that day. I am always digesting new material and sometimes hardly support a point- in the post- I usually have something to reference, however feeble.

I am glad you got a hairy one. Even here in Tucson in the winter, the bare floor is too cold for a naked butt.

The “Naked Truth” http://www.amazon.com/Hairless-Dogs-Chinese-Xoloitzcuintli-Peruvian/dp/096721601X illuminated dog breeding in general through the lens of the naked dog more than any other book I have ever read.I would have never found the name Techichi if it weren’t for Amy’s book naming the books and careers of people like Ida Garret and Deborah Wood and some of those early AKC breeders of the small American dogs, the curmudgeon co-founder of the AKC James Watson, and his trips to the southwest right after the train came through. Her book has been a role model of how to look at AKC breeds and breeding. How to get under the surface.

This started my path into an anthropological model of how to look at native American dogs in general and I found a topic to occupy me for years!

I have since expanded and renamed my techichi.org blog to include all native dogs, but it is always the techichi at the center for me. The ideas I put in this post are/ will be expanded in the new blog.

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