Xoloitzcuintli, a rare Mexican breed, enters Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

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NEW YORK — Jose Barrera enjoys pretty things. A jewelry designer to the stars, his gold-plated breastplate is what Beyonce wore for her I Am ... Sasha Fierce album.

Owner Jose Barrera holds Alma Dulce, a 2-year-old xoloitzcuintli, during an introduction of the new breeds at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which starts today.  MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS
MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS
Owner Jose Barrera holds Alma Dulce, a 2-year-old xoloitzcuintli, during an introduction of the new breeds at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which starts today.

These days, he’s showing off another gem – Alma Dulce, his tiny, trembling xoloitzcuintli.

His what?

With the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show set to begin today, time to know your Xs and Os. So start with the xoloitzcuintli, one of six new breeds welcomed this year to Madison Square Garden.

“They are exotic,” Barrera said. “You can’t take her for a walk around the block without someone stopping you to ask, ‘What is that, how do you spell that?’ ”

Commonly known as a Mexican hairless, and featuring oversized batlike ears, they’re pronounced “show-low-eats-QUEEN-tlee.” That’s according to Amy Fernandez, an expert who’s written books about the breed.

“We go around with little cards at shows telling people how to say it. Otherwise, you would lose your voice doing it every time,” she said.

Fernandez planned to enter two of her xoloitzcuintli in America’s most distinguished dog show. There are 10 ready to compete, though little Alma Dulce will sit out this time at only 2½ years old.

The “show-low” expected to show best is Georgio Armani, the first xolo to win best in show at an American Kennel Club event.

“As magnificent a dog of any breed that we might see,” praised David Frei, longtime television host of Westminster.

More than 2,000 pooches will take part, coming in 185 breeds and varieties.

Among the favorites to become top dog are a wire fox terrier, a smooth fox terrier, an affenpinscher and a couple of standard poodles

Last year, Hickory the Scottish deerhound earned the prized silver bowl. Among the popular winners from the past were Uno the beagle, Josh the Newfoundland and J.R. the bichon frise.

This year’s six new breeds to Westminster are the xoloitzcuintli, the Entlebucher mountain dog, the Norwegian lundehund, the American English coonhound, the Finnish lapphund and the Cesky terrier. Watching any of them win would be a surprise – it’s taken more than a quarter-century for any newcomer to take the top honor.

Seeing any xolo is pretty rare, be it in the nonsporting group or anywhere else. Sporting an Aztec name that meant “dog of the gods,” the xolo dates back 3,000 years, Fernandez said.

Fernandez said there are about 2,500 purebred of them in the United States. They were able to meet the AKC criteria for recognition – an ample number, a good geographic distribution in the country and a parent club to set proper standards.

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