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10 Lovable Facts About the Peruvian Inca Orchid

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The Peruvian Inca Orchid dog isn't like other breeds. Thanks to its noticeable lack of hair, it has a tendency to turn heads. Did we mention it's also pretty rare? Here’s what we know about the scarce (but surprisingly cuddly) South American canine.

1. THEY'RE THE NATIONAL DOG OF PERU.

The Peruvian Inca Orchid is an ancient breed. Thanks to clues on Chimu, Chancay, and Incan pottery, experts believe the dog existed as far back as 750 CE. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in Incan territory, they quickly took notice of the bald dogs. Some believe that the invaders bred their sighthounds with the PIO to create slightly larger dogs than the pups depicted on the scraps of pottery. 

Peru is proud of its unusual-looking pet and declared it the national dog in 2001. To date, they are Peru’s only internationally-registered breed.

2. THEY HAVE MANY NAMES. 

The name “Peruvian Inca Orchid” is pretty wordy, and its official Spanish moniker isn't much better: Perro sin pelo de Peru (Peruvian hairless dog). If you want something a little shorter, they’re also called perros flora or “flower dogs.” 

3. AN AMERICAN NAMED THEM. 

According to legend, the dogs were labeled perros flora by the Spanish, who first encountered them hanging out in caves with wild orchids (poetic, huh?). Another, equally lovely, nickname: Moon dogs, because of their aversion to the sun (you'd avoid it too if you had nothing covering your skin). American dog fancier Jack Walklin came across the many-named dog while visiting Peru in 1966. Combining several of its tags together, he settled on "Peruvian Inca Orchid," and brought eight of the dogs back to the U.S. A breeder by the name of Jenny Tall introduced some of the American dogs to Europe, which resulted in Germany also calling the breed by its American name. When referring to the breed, Peruvians prefer to stick with perro sin pelo de Peru. 

4. NOT ALL OF THEM ARE HAIRLESS. 

In the case of the PIO, the odd dogs out are actually the ones who look like, well, dogs. For the most part, these pups are totally hairless, or have little puffs of hair on their heads and tails. Occasionally, some are born with a full coat. These coated dogs look much more like traditional pooches than the hairless variety and sport cute, floppy ears. They also are more likely to have all of their teeth—the hairless gene is linked to missing a tooth or two.

5. THEY’RE RARE. 

If you’re wondering why you haven’t come across any of these pups at the dog park, it’s because they’re incredibly rare. Thanks to their unusual appearance, they haven’t enjoyed the same amount of popularity as other breeds. Peruvian Inca Orchid dogs are not widely bred, and as a result, there are only about 1000 in the world

6. INCANS USED THEM AS BED WARMERS …

The PIO is mainly a companion dog and was essentially bred to serve as a living hot water bottle. Thanks to their lack of fur, they can snuggle up to their owners and generate a good amount of warmth. At one time, they were also said to have mystical powers, and the ability to cure anything from headaches to arthritis. 

7. … BUT THEY WERE ALSO HUNTERS. 

While the PIO is a great lap warmer, they're also useful out in the field. Their sighthound blood makes them great hunters. Similar to greyhounds or whippets, the canines are skilled at coursing, a type of hunting that emphasizes sight over smell. Thanks to their intelligence and agility, the dogs were tasked with both flushing out and catching small game. Their speed helped them nab prey—and also run messages between villages. 

8. THEIR FEET ARE A LOT LIKE BUNNY FEET. 

Peruvian Inca Orchid dogs have thin, flat feet with webbed toes, similar to the Chinese crested. These unusually long feet are known as “hare feet” because they resemble those of a rabbit. 

9. THEY COME IN DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES. 

LWYang, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Along with being either hairless or coated, the Peruvian hairless dogs can also be one of three sizes. The small variety can be as light as 8 pounds while the larger variety can be as heavy as 55. The American Kennel Club recognizes these as the same breed, although Peru categorizes the sizes as two separate breeds entirely. 

The dogs also come in a wide range of colors and coats. Coated hounds can have all different kinds of fur: short and smooth, long and flowing, or long and straight. Coated dogs can be any color, but the hairless dogs tend to be a shade ranging from black to pink. Generally they are born pink or black and later develop freckles, which grow and combine to create the dog’s final coloring.   

10. YOU'LL NEED TO KEEP THEM OUT OF THE SUN.

Since the PIO doesn’t have a thick coat of hair to cover its skin, the sun is as much a threat to it as it is to us. This means that these dogs shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight, or they might get sunburned! A healthy dollop of sunblock can go a long way for both you and your dog. 

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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