It's that time of year — where hair dryers, treadmills and lush hotel rooms aren't reserved for us Homo sapiens, but for our canine best friends. The 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is off and running this week at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Organizers say it's one of the oldest sporting events in the country, second only to the Kentucky Derby.
There are 2,000 top dogs in competition this year, but there is one breed garnering much of the spotlight. The xoloitzcuintli, pronounced Shoh-loh-eets-kweent-lee, is one of six new breeds debuting in this year's competition. It is the national dog of Mexico and is perhaps best known for being hairless. The xolo (short for xoloitzcuintli) comes in three sizes: toy, miniature and standard.
The xoloitzcuintli is one of the world's oldest breeds and can be traced to pre-Columbian times. It has been highly regarded, as the Aztecs believed it had healing abilities and warded off evil spirits.
Amy Fernandez, a xoloitzcuintli expert and breeder, describes its demeanor as "a real dog kind of dog. They have very strong instincts." They are also protective and bond closely with their owners, she says.
After nearly 30 years of advocating for inclusion in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Fernandez is thrilled the xoloitzcuintli has been included this year, saying the acknowledgement will make it easier to get support for healthy breeding.