El Perrito or the ‘Alhambra Chihuahua’ as he is posthumously known was born in 1519 in the Aztec court of Montezuma just prior to the hostage-taking of Montezuma by Hernan Cortes and his fellow conquistador conspirators.
The Alhambra Chihuahua, silver
El Perrito may have been the runt of his sizable litter but he was smart and opportunistic. Quickly ascertaining that Cortes and his men were a likely if unwelcome fixture of the Aztec court for the forseeable future, he set about inveigling his way into the hearts of the Spanish invaders. His ancestors were Techichi, small dogs much revered by the Toltec, for food, sacrifice and… companionship. It seems fairly evident why El Perrito might want to take his chances with the Spaniards, no matter how hirsute and uncouth they might be.
His troupe of pocket-sized dogs entertained Cortes’ ruffians with amusing flamenco dance routines and tricks in exchange for delicious treats and gentle belly scratching. They were quite a sight to behold, festooned in ropes of tiny pearls and capes of iridescent hummingbird feathers that shimmered as they shimmied. Indeed, El Perrito soon became a fixture in the pocket of Hernan Cortes as he was quickly singled out as an especial favourite.
This bucolic life was to end abruptly for El Perrito in June of 1520. ‘La Noche Triste’ came to represent a crossroads in his life. When he looked back upon the turmoil of the Night of Sorrows and the subsequent events that shaped his destiny he felt no regrets, despite the lifelong scars he carried…
A series of debacles and military misjudgements by the Spanish had enraged the Aztecs. The murder of Montezuma was followed by chaos and terror. The Spanish and their native supporters fled the city laden with treasure and tiny dogs. Overburdened with their booty, many of the Spanish toppled into the lake from a makeshift bridge and drowned. The exact numbers to meet a watery end are unknown, but as many as fifty techichi are thought to have perished, swimming not being a particular skill of the chihuahua. El Perrito survived only because he was ensconsed in Hernan Cortes’ pocket.
There was much tribulation in the following days; still more lives were lost to smallpox, though this naturally did not affect the surviving techichi. El Perrito was carried across land and sea to Cuba where he stayed briefly in Governer Velazquez’ residences before being dispatched to Spain along with a mountain of Aztec bullion in the hold of a Spanish galleon.
Alas, El Perrito’s trials did not end there. His ship was attacked by English privateers who had heard tales of the fabulous wealth of the Americas and wanted a piece in the looting. After much fierce fighting the conquistadors prevailed but El Perrito had taken a savage gash to his left eye from a villainous ship’s cat. He was left weak and incapacitated. When the Santa Irascibilidad finally limped into the port of Cadiz El Perrito was senseless with fever, lying atop a mound of gold shivering pitifully under his feathered cape.
He was promptly transported to the Alhambra palaces at Granada as a novelty for the queen’s amusement where he was immediately taken under the wing of a Dona Elvira Barbola, one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting. Elvira Barbola had the face of a crumbling gargoyle but a kindly heart, so she fashioned El Perrito a miniature eyepatch with the Granada symbol of a pomegranate cunningly embroidered on it to cover his ravaged eye, and a plump velvet cushion needleworked with all manner of New World bestiary so he wouldn’t feel homesick.
El Perrito was honoured for his part in the sea battle with the English pirates with a small jerkin of finely-wrought golden chainmail and lived a further sixteen happy years till 1537. He fathered many litters of chihuahua pups with the other little dogs that the conquistadors brought back to Spain, and was admired by all at the Court of the Alhambra for his loyalty, bravery, and dancing skills.