Beware: This vanity breed can be a challenge to own.
This is the story of Benny and Layla.
Content Warning: Images of a sick dog.
Born on August 18, 2016, Benny, (full name: Benito Juarez), was meant to be my daughter’s therapy dog; but in the end, it was the dog who needed therapy.
Benny was a Xoloitzcuintli (zoh-loh-eets-KWEENT-lee) aka Xolo or Mexican Hairless Dog. They are an ancient breed; they are the mascot for the Tijuana Futball Club; and they are the Dante dog from the Disney/Pixar movie: Coco! My daughter became infatuated with Xolos because they were Frida Kahlo’s dogs. According to legend, they have healing qualities. Frida had her Xolos lay with her – like hot water bottles – to soothe her many ailments. In Aztec culture, Xolos guide the dead through the underworld to the heavens. Another attraction of having Xolos is their hypoallergenic status. Since both my daughter and I have animal allergies, we are restricted to dogs that have hair rather than fur. This made hairless Xolos a winner in my daughter’s mind.
My daughter made it clear when she got the dog that she wanted it to be “her” dog. While loving toward the entire family, Xolos tend to bond with primarily with a single person. My daughter wanted that person to be her. I had no problem with that, as “my” baby – a 15-year-old porky Yorkie named Bodhi – had passed away a year earlier. I was still grieving and was not ready for a new dog. The new Xolo could be all hers. I would just be a housemate.
When my daughter brought Benny home, he was quite the sight. They are not completely hairless. Most have a mohawk-style tuft of hair on their head and some short hairs on their feet and the tip of their tail. Some (one in four) are born with a short, shiny coat of hair similar to that of a Doberman. His wrinkled face resembled a Chinese Shar-Pei. After seeing a photo on Facebook, my niece proclaimed that he had the face only a mother could love. My daughter was not amused; she may have forgiven her cousin, but she never forgot the comment.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While some people are clearly turned off by the sight of a hairless dog, others are impressed by Xolo’s sleek, muscular physique and are enamored by their baby seal face topped with a quirky mohawk. They see the breed as stately and handsome.
Barely a Dog
As he matured, Benny’s unique shape (muscular hind quarters paired with a long neck and a narrow snout) and his assertive personality suggested his breed was not like the other dogs I had known. I surmised that his ancestors had “mixed it up” with another animal species – chupacabra perhaps?
Benny took pleasure in torturing me. While sitting on the couch, Benny would lunge at my face, which was terrifying since my neck had recently been fused. I took to spending my evenings in my bedroom to avoid his relentless harassment.
He was a wild one. My adult son gave my daughter money for Benny to have obedience training, since he was nervous about Benny being around his infant twins who spent a lot of time at our house. Fortunately, Benny was never aggressive toward the babies. Also, this breed has few teeth: four tiny ones on top, four tiny ones on the bottom, and a few assorted molars. Their strength comes in their speed, ability to lurch, and powerful back legs. They were commonly eaten in the Aztec era, and probably earlier and later as well. Those meaty hind legs would make for a tasty meal!
Living the Good Life
Benny was away a lot. My daughter took him everywhere. They spent considerable time at her then-boyfriend’s house. He had two large dogs: a Bull Mastiff and a French Mastiff. I was concerned that Benny might be injured in the course of rough dog play. But the larger canines treated him like a beloved little brother.
In April 2017, when he was eight months old, my daughter returned home with a wounded Benny. His snout had oozing sores all over it. It looked like he stuck his nose in an ant hill. We took him to the vet in the morning. He had not been bitten by ants, he had a disease we had never heard of – Puppy Strangles.
It was serious. Puppy Strangles is an auto-immune disease also known as Juvenile Cellulitis. The vet provided steroids, antibiotics and a cone. Benny was now mostly home bound. His condition was shocking to behold, and he was in horrible pain. My daughter was a dedicated caregiver, but she gets queasy when it comes to messy medical conditions. Although I could barely stand to look at poor Benny, I dug in. I put on a medical glove and smeared Neosporin all over his oozing snout. He was so grateful. I took over all his medical care involving the sores.
It never ended. Benny got somewhat better, and then he got worse again. We kept taking him to the same massive vet clinic, often seeing a different practitioner, and they kept prescribing him more steroids and antibiotics. A month later, in May 2017, his eyes swelled up and he was treated with an ophthalmic ointment. In August, the eye condition returned. Wanting a second opinion, we took him to an emergency veterinary clinic, where they suspected he had the eye disease Immune-Mediate Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. He was later diagnosed with Masticatory Muscle Myositis, another immune disorder.
Benny loved his baths. I would bathe him in the kitchen sink, using a loofah-type glove to exfoliate his skin. Afterward, I would dry him off and slather him with Aveeno lotion. One day, when I was scrubbing the sink after his bath, Benny heard the water running again and jumped onto the countertop. When I grabbed him with my wet hands, his slick body – anointed with lotion – almost slid out of my hands. What a scare! That crazy dog.
The New Vet
Benny wasn’t improving. He had a poor appetite and low energy. Then he started vomiting. Frustrated with his care at the big vet clinic, I had my daughter contact an acquaintance who owned three Xolos. I wanted Benny to be seen by a vet with some experience with this unique breed. The new vet was familiar with Puppy Strangles and with Xolos. He immediately had blood drawn. We took Benny home, awaiting the results.
Benny was in organ failure. I asked the doctor what he would do if Benny was his dog. He advised putting Benny to sleep. With heavy heart, we made arrangements to come to the office later that afternoon. We showered Benny all the love we had and tearfully took him on his final drive. The first shot relieved him of his pain. We petted him continuously while professing our love. The second shot ended his pain.
Benny was barely a year old when he passed on August 31, 2017. According to the vet, he was suffering from advanced kidney failure from either congenital malfunction of the kidneys or secondary to the autoimmune disease. His medical bills in his short life exceeded $2,300.
One More Time
My daughter contacted the breeder to inform her of Benny’s passing. Not wanting to issue a $1800 refund, the breeder talked my daughter into getting a new puppy. The next day, her associate drove down to Tijuana and picked up a female born on July 19, 2017. She sent a photo, and my daughter was smitten – again.
On September 8, my husband drove our daughter to Southern California, to pick up her new puppy. Layla was not free of health problems. The “new” vet diagnosed her with Giardia after her first visit on September 13, where she presented with diarrhea. For months, we had to keep her isolated; because of which, to this day, she is not socialized to other animals. Sadly, we were later told that the rest of her litter, (it was probably a puppy mill), died of Giardia.
Layla is a habitual licker. She literally licks her front paws raw. Like her brother Benny, Layla was forced to don the cone of shame. After trying a plethora of allergy and psych drugs, we have finally found a combination that manages her compulsion. Now she only wears the cone for brief periods after being verbally warned and/or having per paws covered with a lightweight baby blanket to distract her. Like with Benny, we have spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care for our second Xolo.
Layla is a sweet girl – but – like Benny – quite odd. We call her crazy Layla or Layla la Loca. She is a barkaholic. She “screams” if forced to go on a car ride or if all the humans leave the house together. She stalks certain people who come to visit – including Great Grandma. Only my husband can manage her on walks, since she pulls so hard; yet if he accidentally drops the leash, she stays put by his side. And this is after three rounds of obedience training.
She is smart and stubborn. She can open all the lever-handled doors in the house. She indicates her desire for food, water, or a potty break. Once she has settled into a spot, she will refuse to move to accommodate humans – putting her weight into it or snapping when you attempt to push her away.
Another odd habit of Layla’s is that she likes to press her ass up against my butt when I am lying on the couch. It is weird and creepy. If she were a male, I would be particularly disturbed; we all know how humpy males can be. As it is, I feel borderline sexually harassed by Layla’s closeness. Frida may have enjoyed this level of intimacy, but I’ll take a pass.
It is common to see Xolos in rescue posts on Facebook – disproportionately so. It should be a warning to those who are considering bringing this vanity breed into their family. Why do so many people abandon this breed? Is it issues of health? All the vet bills? Or their odd behavioral traits? They are certainly an interesting, loyal, and lovable pet and a treasured animal – but they are barely a dog!