Edible and Warrior Dogs in the New World
Historically dogs did exist in the lower Americas before the Spanish invaders but they for the most part were smaller often-edible breeds. These canines have long history in native creation myths as evidenced by many existing anthropomorphic and totemic artifacts. The dogs of the lower Americas probably made their way here by trotting across the Beringia land bridge behind their migrating Siberian masters as they crossed the ice floes. Some theorize that Zheng He, The Three Jeweled Eunuch, brought certain breeds along with his expedition from China in the early fifteenth century but that’s a topic for another post. The local Nahuatl names for these pets often refer to the attributes of size and hair although the Zolo breed could reach 60 pounds.
Techichi: A Small Edible Dog
Itzcuintepozotl: Hunchback Dog
Tepeotzuintli: Little Mountain Dog
Khala: Without Clothing
Xoloitzcuintli: Mexican hairless, or Zolo
Tepeizcuintli: A Mini Mexican Hairless or Bald
Pek: A Mayan Guinea Pig like Dog
Most of the dogs in meso and lower America were probably the bark less Chihuahua, meaning petite, types often neutered and fattened as food for the rich. Pre-Columbian canine fossils have been found in a broad area from Mexico to Chile including an exceptionally intact cemetery in Peru, with 40 dog mummies, discovered in 2006. The Conquistadors, who soon developed a Jones for dog meat, are thought to have eaten a Taino breed, known as the Aon, completely out of existence. My favorite myth tells of a Techichi pup that journeyed back with Columbus to Spain where he quickly jumped ship and set off to father the Papillion lineage used as the flea magnets later favored by the European aristocracy. When the Mexica, aka Aztecs, went to war they’d bring along thousands of Chihuahua like dogs who would forage off the land in front of them before they conquered it and put it to the torch. Then on the return trip, back through the now desolated countryside, the army took advantage of this trotting pantry ala brochette with some corn tortillas, chilies and avocado. The Spanish also utilized this canine protein as shown by the 2,000 edible dogs, along with scores of horses, cattle and pigs harboring a circus of zoonotic diseases that decimated the locals, that accompanied Francisco de Orellana’s on his expedition to the Amazon.
Late 17th century painting of a conquistador eating dog
The only domesticated protein sources in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican were turkeys, Muscovy ducks, the hairless Xoloitzcuintli … Zolo for short … and of course the “little dogs” from earlier posts. The ranching of these dogs was a lucrative and esteemed middle class occupation in the Lower and Middle American food scheme. These hairless hounds, fed a diet of avocados and maize, were slaughtered before their first birthday much like our modern-day veal. The Xolo is one of the world’s oldest, and until recently, rarest breeds and with 3000 years of history … IT IS THE AMERICAN DOG. Their descendants, long thought extinct, were found in the interiors several decades ago and now they are a sanctioned breed of the Mexican equivalent of the AKC and the breed made it first appearance at Westminster last year.
The Xolo was represented as an fearsome Aztec deity who accompanied the dead and guarded the sun at night as the North and Morning Stars, but of course they were also pets, bed warmers [a one, two or three dog night], and possessed healing powers. Legend tells us that a Xolo brought a bone to the gods who anointed it with their blood and transformed it into the first boy and girl and was also said to be Quetzalcoatl’s [the feathered serpent] pet and companion.
La Monteria Infernal ……
The dogs the Conquistadors brought with them were Mastiff breeds who were hardly the lap variety or destined for the plate. These attack dogs, often wearing their own armor, were the common European shock and awe tactic of the period. The first documented New World use of these canine swat teams occurred in 1495 when Bartholomew Columbus, Chris’s brother, used 20 mastiffs in a battle waged at Santa Maris el Antigua, Darien with his brother employing the same approach a year later. These dogs were trained to pursue, disembowel and dismember humans and to this purpose, enjoyed a human diet in the Americas. The Spanish reveled in holding human hunts called “la Monteria infernal “ where much sport was made of chasing and killing the local men, women and children. The noted Spanish apologist Bartolme de La Casas has left us numerous accounts of the exploits of these hounds from hell and it is easy to understand why these horrific memes still prevail in the cultures of Latin America. The names of many of these dogs so esteemed by the Spaniards still live on and here are but a few:
Bercerruillo the terror of Borinquen, until he was fallen by 50 arrows, received a salary one and a half times that of an archer from his owner Ponce de Leon.
Leoncillo, Bercerruillo’s son, was Balboa’s warrior, earned over 500 gold pesos in booty during his many campaigns, and he was the first Western dog to see the Pacific.
Bruto, De Soto’s champion, received 20 slaves as spoils before his career ended.
Scores of firsthand accounts tell us how the dogs attacked local Caciques [chiefs] both dead and alive. Perhaps this information may help to explain the innate fear held by many cultures for man’s best friend and fiend.