NEW YORK - It has been around for over 3,000 years, but Mexico's famous, usually hairless, "Xolo" dog is making a big splash as a "new breed" at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show here this week.
Tiny Chabella, descended from a breed the Aztecs considered sacred, is representing the Xoloitzcuintli (which means "hairless dog" or more broadly "dog of the god Xolotl") for the first time at the show.
The event packs Madison Square Garden and is considered the second-oldest U.S. sporting event after horseracing's Kentucky Derby.
This year, the show is welcoming six breeds into its ranks for the first time, even though the Xolo is a household name in Mexico, if not next door in the United States.
The other new four-legged breeds taking part and being judged in New York
are: the American English Coonhound; Cesky terrier; Entlebucher mountain dog; Finnish lapphund; and Norwegian lundehund.
Those new breeds on the block may get some second looks from dog lovers.
But there are a lot of things that get your attention when it comes to a Xolo (pronounced sholo) like Chabella: with dark brown skin, a bit mottled, the owners of this five-year-old -- who have traveled in from Florida -- are real believers that Xolo bald is beautiful.
The Xolo is considered rare and prized at home in Mexico. Its more than 3,000-year-old history is intertwined with that of the ancient Aztec indigenous people.
Xolotl was the Aztecs' god of lightning and death; the xolo's name makes reference to him because Aztecs believed the dog's mission was to accompany dead people on their journey to the afterworld, Chabella's owner Stephanie Mazzarella told AFP.
"The only way to go to the underworld and be protected, it was to have the soul of a Xolo with you. So, when the owner died, he sacrificed the Xolo and the Xolo's soul could guide the owner's soul to the promised land," she explained.
"They said the ones with spots chose to come back from the underworld to the land of the living to guide more souls through," she added.
About 2,000 dogs are competing at the WKC show and only one will take home top honors. The show, dating back to 1877, has been held at Madison Square garden since 2005. Judges look at how the different breeds conform to agreed standards.
Internationally, Chabella is a "Bronze Grand Champion and today got Best Opposite (at the WKC). She's a FCI World Champion, FCI International Champion," her enthused owner explained hopefully.
Mazzarella, who suffers from severe allergies, decided to raise a Xolo because they are easier for many allergy sufferers than heavier-shedding dogs.
Chabella, quiet and subdued at her side, keenly watched people milling around approach her, and even let them pet her, without budging.
"They naturally hide from strangers, so to get a Xolo to this point, it's a lot of socialization," her proud owner explained.