Chihuahua

Chihuahua races are among the attractions at River’s Edge Taco Fest, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs.

On Saturday, some of Omaha’s most charming Chihuahuas will strut their stuff at the River’s Edge Taco Fest.

The festivities include a Chihuahua race and beauty pageant, and the competing canines will need to display grace, spunk and raw athletic ability to win over the crowd.

Chihuahuas have long had a place in entertainment: There’s Ren in “Ren and Stimpy” and Bruiser in “Legally Blonde.” There’s the El Paso Chihuahuas, a minor league baseball team in Texas. And, of course, there’s the determined pup who made us all crave Taco Bell.

But despite their stardom, for many, the Chihuahua can be a polarizing breed. For some, an adorable apple-headed companion. For others, an example of how man has stripped nature of its dignity, molding an apex predator into a purse-bound accessory.

How did we do it?

The history of the Chihuahua is shrouded in mystery, but most agree the breed originated in Mexico. About 1,000 years ago, Mexico’s Toltec civilization favored the Techichi, a larger, heavier version of the modern Chihuahua, according to the American Kennel Club.

The Aztecs, who conquered the Toltecs in the 12th century, are believed to have bred the Techichi to be smaller and lighter. One story holds that the dogs were used as living hot water bottles to treat illness and injury.

When Spanish conquistadors wiped out the Aztecs in the 1500s, many considered the little dogs to be one of the great civilization’s lost treasures. But the breed lived on in remote villages, particularly in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

By the mid-1800s, Americans began to take note of the puny pooches. In 1908, a dog named Beppie became the first Chihuahua registered with the American Kennel Club.

The breed’s popularity skyrocketed in the late 1990s after the Taco Bell ad campaign. In 1998, Omaha dog shelters reported many families were turning in Chihuahuas they’d bought to be trendy, only to decide later they couldn’t take care of them.

Gidget, the female chihuahua at the center of the Taco Bell commercials, died in 2009. But we can take solace knowing that her legacy lives on at at least one Midwestern taco festival.