Hairless Dogs

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It’s hard to look beyond one inescapable fact about hairless dogs. Consequently, many observers fail to appreciate their most amazing trait. For thousands of years they have defied dismissive pronouncements about their genetic fitness, surviving and thriving in situations that have spelled the demise of lesser breeds.

The early 20th-century author and judge Freeman Lloyd is considered a world-class authority on hounds and sporting breeds. Over the years, he also owned quite a few hairless dogs, including the resourceful Pongo. “At an old time Bohemian resort in NYC I once purchased a beautifully marked Mexican Hairless Dog from a Mexican who had recently arrived from over the Rio Grande. The dog was not only a performer, but a wonderful walker on his hind legs.  “…Because of his frequent voluntary performances in taverns and restaurants around the village, Pongo became more or less an institution. All of the villagers knew the dog’s name — knew it so well, in fact, that they began to address me as Pongo. That was too much. Even children hailed me by the embarrassing nickname. ...It was before the days of the automobile, and I used to drive to town in a buggy. One day, Pongo jumped out of the buggy to chase a cat in the Syrian quarter at the southern end of lower Washington Street. I just drove off and left him to shift for himself.”  (National Geographic)

For most dogs, jumping from a moving vehicle into Manhattan traffic would be a death sentence. But not for Pongo. A few weeks later, Lloyd was stopped by a cabdriver on Fifth Avenue with news that his errant dog had found a new home. Pongo lived the rest of his life with the famous actress Mary Garden at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, wearing a $12,000 diamond collar. This story may seem far fetched, but accounts of Mary Garden’s hairless pet have appeared in numerous books and periodicals.

There is one lingering question about this story. Was Pongo a Crested or a Xolo? His photo has been reproduced countless times, variously identified as both breeds. Even Lloyd admitted “there is a great similarity between Mexican and Chinese hairless dogs. As a onetime owner of both sorts, I can testify that there was little difference in the general setup of the two kinds. The alleged China-bred dog which I purchased from a sailor in Cardiff, Wales, carried a bigger crest of hair than did the harsher-haired dog I bought in New York.” (National Geographic)

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