Since this topic is close to some of my canine research interests,* this recent article from China Times deserves reprinting here. It tells us to what lengths a myth (about size, in particular; and now about prestige) can take people who are crazy about a particular rare breed… Crazy enough to pay $1.6 million for a dog?
Breeding chaos: Myth of the Tibetan mastiff creates a mad industry
The myth that the Tibetan mastiff helps people become rich overnight has seen the breeding of the mountain dog spiral into a chaotic industry chain, involving artificial breeding, gambling, bribing and money laundering, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily reports.
The Tibetan mastiff is an ancient breed of domestic dog originating from the nomadic cultures of Tibet, Nepal and Central Asia. For thousands of years, the dogs have been used to defend the cattle and sheep of Tibetan herders. Over the past three decades, the price of a pedigree Tibetan mastiff has surged to up to 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million) from just a few hundred yuan.
Senji, a pedigree stud Tibetan mastiff from the famous Yushu region, has helped push the breeding industry to a peak, with its offspring now spreading across the country. Dogs aired by Senji have a long black and tan coat, including the legs, strong bones, a powerful body, abundant skin and a giant head. Senji embodies the ideal for the breed.
Tibetan mastiffs originate mainly from Qinghai, especially the Yushu region. Many people there have become rich in a short period of time thanks to breeding the mountain dogs. There is a legend that one beggar helped a landlord breed Tibetan mastiffs; one day, the master gave the beggar a dog, then the beggar became rich, married a wife and built his own house. Another story told of a nanny who became rich because her master gave her a Tibetan mastiff. There are many such stories in Yushu, the report said.
The surging prices of Tibetan mastiffs have made dog breeding a good business. The owner of a male Tibetan mastiff priced at 2.5 million yuan (US$410,000) can charge 30,000 yuan (US$4,900) in stud fees.
To cope with the demand from inland buyers that the Tibetan mastiffs should be giant dogs, breeders of the dogs in Yushu have begun to force-feed the dogs, leading to the giant mastiffs being mockingly dubbed Pig mastiffs. Thanks to their unhealthy diet, the dogs get tired after walking short distances. A typical Tibetan mastiff weighs 40-45 kg, but the force-fed Pig mastiffs each weigh between 50-100 kg.
During the mating season for Tibetan mastiffs — usually between November and January — a male can normally mate once a day, but some mastiff owners have tried to use medicine to allow them to mate two or three times a day, although the effectiveness of such medication has been thrown into doubt.
Tibetan mastiff breeders have artificially bred the dog over the past two years by obtaining Tibetan mastiff semen with a syringe and then inseminating the female dog, charging between 20,000-100,000 yuan (US$3,000-$16,000) a time. However, some breeders doubt that this really breeds quality dogs, preferring to use the traditional method.
Over the past two years, transactions of Tibetan mastiffs have entered a consolidation phase, with prices and also the mating prices seen falling sharply, the report said. Senji was sold for 5.5 million yuan (US$900,000), the report said, without mentioning when the transaction took place.
* My book is ‘Big Dogs of Tibet and the Himalayas‘, by Don Messerschmidt (Orchid Press), winner of the ‘Maxwell Medallion for Excellence‘ from the Dog Writers Association of America. [Full disclosure: I call it my ‘Poochitzer Prize‘~!]
For a related article, see ‘How puppy smugglers feed Hong Kong’s love affair with big dogs’ by Peter Shadbolt, CNN, April 29, 2013 — http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/26/world/asia/hong-kong-dogs/index.html.