My name is Daenna Van Mulligen and I reside in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., Canada
What Pays Me
I am a wine journalist. I’ve been writing about wine, and travelling to vineyards all over the world, for almost twenty years. I’m also an accredited sommelier, a wine judge and public speaker. I have two websites: WineDiva.ca and WineScores.ca, and I’ve written for international and local publications. I currently make regular contributions to three Canadian magazines.
What Consumes Me
Guiding my standard hairless Xolos through this crazy world—maybe they’ll return the favour in the next. Jace is my five-year-old male rescue, born in La Paz, Mexico. Xoco is my two-year-old female, born in Mexico City.
Even though it's not far from the city, we live near the countryside and we are very fortunate to have such a gem of a place.
What Consumes Me
Recently I’ve written a memoir. The retelling Jace’s story: where he came from, how he arrived to Vancouver, the reality of his struggles with extreme fear, and his rehabilitation. It culminates in May of 2022 and is now available to purchase internationally. The book is aptly named Jace’s Journey.
Fate. That’s’ the entire reason I have Xoloitzcuintlis, and that I’m part of the Xolo community.
A Story of the Unprepared
I grew up with dogs. We always had them, but they were yard dogs for the most part. We always had a good-sized yard, or larger property in the country. It wasn’t common to see people walking dogs when I was growing up—I don’t recall ever taking them for leashed walks.
I discovered Xolos entirely by accident.
After nearly twenty years of having hairless cats (Sphynxes) a friend of mine saw a listing for a dog come up on a local rescue site. This dog was in a shelter in Cabo San Lucas. Because the friend knew my husband Barry was allergic to fur of almost any kind, she immediately thought of us. The dog was hairless, save for a few sparse shortish hairs on his head and toes.
When I read his description, it explained he was a rare purebred Xoloitzcuintli—I seriously stumbled over the word—named Jason (Statham). No joke.
He wasn’t a good-looking dog, he was gaunt and ashy and banged up with floppers for ears. He resembled the cartoon character of Goofy.
But his eyes—his eyes spoke to us on a visceral level.
Over a bottle of wine we decided to apply to foster-to-adopt him.
Before you get up in arms, I agree, that’s a stupid thing to do while drinking. Stay with me, I have much more to say.
We were second in queue to apply for him, but we got him. It was also one-week before the Pixar movie Coco was released. If he had come up for adoption post release, I doubt we would have.
Of course despite all the research we’d done on the breed, all the usual information floating around out there, when he arrived we were over the moon, but in over our heads.
We changed his name to Jace. We also quickly discovered he wasn’t just your typical somewhat skittish, highly-environmentally aware Xolo; he was terrified of the world. Literally.
I detail in the book the entire adoption, his arrival to Vancouver, and how his life—our lives— evolved over the following weeks, months and years.
Cliché as it is, Jace’s Journey is a labour of love.
I wrote the memoir because Jace is an extreme case when it comes to fear. I simply can’t go into the depth of his anxieties in this limited space.
The short version is this; when Jace become ours I didn’t know where to start, how to help him, or if I even could. I fumbled through an attempt at training him after a consultation with a local trainer right after we got him. I didn’t connect with her at all, so I continued on my own.
Our second trainer was a wonderful person but her training ideology just didn’t work for us, for him. Which could be said for many dogs, including those with behavioral issues—be they fear, reactivity, or even aggression.
Jace’s training sessions ended when she said, “There’s nothing more I can do for you.”
It was around that time we hit rock bottom, I knew I had to take things into my own hands. Jace was too frightened to even go out our front door to pee, no matter what I tried—and trust me, I tried everything the trainer recommended. Carrying Jace outside to go potty was not sustainable for us, nor was that kind of anxiety good for his physical and mental health.
We also worked with a vet behaviourist, and under her direction, and in tandem with our own vet, we had Jace on a cocktail of 12 pills per day. Even highly medicated he wasn’t able to cope outside our home, not even for a walk around the block. It was heartbreaking. At that point I realized we needed something more, a better form of communication—and a new way of training.
I reached out to the human behind the Instagram account @IorvethXoloitzcuintli and she gave me a good place to start—she also suggested I keep a diary.
As I researched more, watched more videos and read more I felt I found a possible solution. And I did. All the medication in the world couldn’t have achieved what I did going forward. It was a very slow process, but I started with communication. From there I pushed his boundaries little by little by exposing him to the scary world in small increments. Over time that involved repetition, consistency, expectation and structure—things important to all dogs, but especially for fearful ones. As the training progressed, the medications were dropped.
Pen to Paper—So to Speak
So began Jace’s Journey of rehabilitation. A story I began writing in October of 2021 after my husband had suggested it multiple times. Barry was witness to Jace’s improvements first hand—be they tiny or tremendous—and he felt there was so many that could benefit from my experience. The book is unique in the fact it’s written from an owner’s perspective, rather than a trainer’s.
In completion the book spans 55-months of Jace’s highs, lows and plateaus—from tears to triumphs.
Unlike most of the Xolo community spotlighted so far, I’m no expert on the breed, but I’ve learned a lot in recent years thanks to having my own, and to the community.
Since being forthright about my struggles with Jace in 2020, I’ve spoken to so many Xolo owners who have reached out with their own challenges. Most of those are very similar to other Xolos.
And I feel having two Xolos that started with very different beginnings, gives me a solid feel of the breed nature.
Jace and Xoco have the same breed characteristics. The most obvious difference to me is how they were nurtured; I feel strongly nurture plays an even more significant role in Xolos’ mental health than a lot of other breeds.
Jace was contained in a compound for his first seven-to-eight months of life with little if any human affection and no exposure to the outside world. No cars, bikes, other humans, strollers or other dogs. He was mentally stuck and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle once the damage was done.
After receiving his DNA results from Embark Veterinary, I was surprised to see Jace had a coefficient of inbreeding (COI) of only 2% (Xoco’s is 3%). I suspected the breeders were inbreeding, but not in his particular case.
I can’t tell you his dam and sire were healthy, I’m sure they weren’t health tested at all. I can’t tell you if poor genetics play a part in his mental health either. What I can tell you: the extreme lack of exposure, socialization, and nurturing and mental stimulation is primarily what made him the dog he is.
This is why I am so vocal about those early weeks and months with puppies.
It’s also why, when I got Xoco at 11-weeks of age in 2020, I worked so hard to give her all the opportunities Jace never had. Even as a COVID puppy, I had a select puppy play-dates with her zoom training classmates. I took her everywhere from busy intersections and high-rise construction sites to children’s parks and big-box stores. I walked her in crowds, on different surfaces, and took her along to rest at my feet while I dined on restaurant patios.
I was also sure to work with my dogs separately, to build our relationships individually, and to get them used to the other being out of sight to prevent separation anxiety.
Saying that, right out of the womb I feel Xoco was confident. She’s a beautiful Xolo—physically and mentally—from good lineage. But she’s also not from a licensed breeder and there’s no pretending differently.
I got lucky.
I had trust in her breeder, I’d known of them for months. They were upfront about everything, sent me updates, and answered my questions immediately. I watched Xoco grow through videos and photos. I saw her in her surroundings with her six other littermates and knew of her sire and dam through images—I have paperwork on both; they’re registered—her sire in Mexico and dam internationally.
Still, I got lucky.
It wasn’t until Xoco was close to a year old that conversations about back-yard- breeders and Xolo scam breeders started to truly escalate among the community. I was shocked and horrified at what I was learning.
The demand for Xolos was growing, I could see it personally and was hearing more socially. Unhealthy Xolos with mental or physical deformities were becoming far too common. The abuse of breeding Xolos in many situations was soul crushing.
I don’t have a solution.
Humans will be humans and sadly that means greed and demand for immediate satisfaction. Waiting for a year or more for a Xolo puppy from a reputable breeder for some people is unacceptable, and as long as that demand and urgency is there, Xolos will continue to be poorly bred in unethical manners.
That’s also why I feel this community is important.
There are folks out there who are genuinely looking for a well-bred Xolo and are willing to put in the time and effort. I feel they are generally the people best prepared for one.
Xolos are not for everyone; in fact they are not for the vast majority of people who want a dog. I cannot stress this enough. I am in love with the breed: its incredible history and historical significance, its primitiveness, its stunningly unique physique and amazing intelligence. Xolos’ built-in early warning system and overall environmental acuity can be challenging, but come with the territory.
But they need special humans too—humans that understand the breed and why they are as they are. Xolos are sensitive and require a significant amount of guidance and time. They will challenge you, especially if they don’t respect you, but that respect must be mutual. They are not a doodle, a lab or a golden... They are so much MORE.
More requires more from their humans.
I believe Barbara Griffin said in June of 2000 on the Pure Dog Talk Podcast (along with Gio Suedan) that to have a Xolo means, “You need to be a benevolent dictator.”
Pulling Back the Curtain
I’d like to see more Xolo owners speak up and be honest about their own experiences (@Mezcal_in_harlem and @k9fitbitch are good at this). I think we all learn from each other. I’ve spoken to some of you privately about your own challenges and my take away is this: many of us got more than we bargained for. We were warned, we were told, but we really didn’t process how much work Xolos truly are.
In doing so, we feel if we speak up publically about our challenges with our dogs, we’ll be admitting to a sort of failure; of not really taking the advice seriously, and sometimes being in over our heads.
That’s okay. I think most of us are in over our heads some days. I am as much as you are. We likely just approach it differently.
We all benefit from sharing the challenges as well as the celebrations.
My hope is the more we speak up, the more likely potential Xolo owners might begin to understand that a Xolo isn’t the right fit at this time in their lives (if at all). Or at least they’ll be better prepared to find an ethical breeder and wait for a well- bred Xolo. One that is mentally balanced and robust in health.
In the interim I cry for the Xolos being re-homed, placed in shelters, or living unfulfilled lives.
To make a difference, education is a start, but it can’t just be ethical breeders and those with well-bred Xolos preaching it. Pointing fingers also isn’t the way to help—we all have to pull back the curtain and share our stories—good and bad.
That’s part of the reason I wrote Jace’s Journey and why I was brutally honest about my mistakes and forthright about Jace’s challenges.
I love, adore and thank the fates every day for my perfectly imperfect boy, and no matter how long his—and Xoco’s— time on this earth is, it will be utterly and painfully insufficient. But I also wouldn’t want anyone else to have to work through what we have had to, and will likely continue to do so, in some regard, throughout his life.
I feel we can all benefit from the opening quote in Jace’s Journey…
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do
Get in contact with Daenna - @showmethexolo
Order your copy of “Jace’s Journey” - Jace's Journey the book