Mezcal is not just any dog. Beyond that name that it shares with a Mexican agave distillate, its unusual hairless skin preserves the genes of a sacred ancestor.
From the patio of a cultural venue in Mexico City, a handful of onlookers observe this specimen of the xoloitzcuintle breed from a distance. Some approach hesitantly, as if reaching out to its back would pose an unsuspected danger.
“They can touch it,” says its owner, Nemiliz Gutierrez, smiling. “He loves petting.”
To the touch, Mezcal is almost as smooth as the human complexion. She has the dark color of a shadow. Stiff ears that point to the sky. Long teeth that rarely show, as a xolo does not usually bark.
Nemiliz and her sister Itzayani, who also has a specimen she calls Pilon, are members of the Xolostitlan project, which promotes the responsible breeding and adoption of these puppies of pre-Hispanic origin.
“We are privileged because we have among us some precious jewels of history that are living cultural heritage,” Itzayani explains during a recent conference organized by the Colegio de San Ildefonso to disseminate the historical and cultural value of the ancestors of Mezcal and Pilon.
Thanks to the study of codices and written records after the conquest (1521), experts have managed to establish the relevance of xolos among some Mesoamerican civilizations.
Before the Spaniards arrived in this land -and with them evangelization- the xoloitzcuintle was a sacred dog that, according to the Nahuatl worldview, represented the god Xolotl, Quetzalcoatl’s twin brother. And so, while the latter personified the morning star, life and light, the former was an effigy of darkness, the underworld and death.
In an article published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the historian Mercedes de la Garza explains that being a creature capable of moving through the darkness, the xolo was in charge of carrying the spirit of its master to the world of the deceased That is, when a soul reached the river of the underworld, it found her dog and mounted on his back to cross it together.
Archeology supports this idea: in various burials, the remains found are not only human, but also canine, which is why it is thought that the xolo was sacrificed in funeral rites to be placed next to its master.
That love for our dogs gets us to the bone is not a recent impulse. In ancient times, the closeness between man and the xoloitzcuintle was so deep that it came to serve as a sacrificial animal to replace the human in the rituals that were offered to the deities.
In those ceremonies the dog was killed by extracting its heart and this, according to the UNAM expert, differentiated it from any other sacrificial creature and had a special meaning: “It is the animal par excellence of man, and therefore, the one that can represent him before the gods.
If today we type “xolo” in the search bar of the Royal Academy of Language, the site returns “monster” translated from Nahuatl. It seems a reminder that the xolo drags its anomalies even in the name, but its uniqueness has not only aroused a certain fear or strangeness, but also fascination.
Decades ago, this breed already aroused curiosity among the elites of Mexico. More than one xolo appears in Frida Kahlo’s paintings and in the photographs she shared with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera. There were also several copies treasured in the Dolores Olmedo Museum, which until before its closure due to the pandemic were visited along with the various works of art exhibited south of the Mexican capital.
More recently, in 2016, the xoloitzcuintle was declared a heritage of Mexico City by the current mayor and soon after it regained international fame after appearing in the animated film “Coco”, where a friendly dog named Dante accompanies the protagonist to the land of the dead. Even today, this quadruped has his own soccer team — the Xolos — based in Tijuana.
At the San Ildefonso cultural event, Mezcal and Pilon arouse as much interest as their ancestors. Along with Pulque and Paki, other xolos who also came to the venue to make themselves known with their masters, accept cuddles and caresses, walk under the spotlight and pose for the cameras.
According to Itzayani Gutierrez, from the Xolostitlan project, until recently it was believed that the xolos were in danger of extinction and could only be purchased in remote parts of Mexico.
The little access to these animals raised their cost and increased interest in them. According to Nemiliz, his sister and Mezcal owner, there are farms in northern Mexico that sell them for up to 70,000 pesos (3,500 dollars), a high cost in a country where the minimum wage barely exceeds 10 dollars a day and there are dozens of canine shelters that promote adoption on a daily basis.
Today it is common to see these dogs walking in wealthy neighborhoods of the capital, but one could come across some of their less popular brothers without noticing: among the xolos there is a variety completely covered in fur, which can be born in the same litter as dogs baldheaded
“Almost no one wants them, since they are the strongest gene in the breed,” says Nemiliz with some disappointment.
They are almost a rarity among rarities and that is why the job of Xolostitlan and institutions like San Ildefonso is to expand the information that is available about the breed or find responsible and loving homes for everyone, regardless of whether their skin has hair or not.
It is said that among dogs there is no more loyal companion to his master than the xolo. He was the one who accompanied Quetzalcoatl to the Underworld to recover the bones that gave rise to humanity and who remains a guardian from the shadows. He is the one who repeats that infinite love story between the dog and the man.
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Source: El Nuevo Herald