Newsletter 16
Tibetan Mastiff Memories,
A Tribute to Ann Rohrer
April 5, 2011

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the delay in getting this issue of the newsletter out. I've made several starts on writing this one and scrapped them all. Finally, it was a news story that prompted this month's jog down memory lane. (Note: If you're a Collie collector, be sure to scroll down to the final paragraphs.)

Before I begin, I need to tell you that Harve and I are taking a few days off for vacation. It's been about three years since we've taken time off and we're going to Callaway Gardens, in south Georgia, to see the azaleas in bloom. So, if you are ordering something from the ebay store, we won't be able to mail it until Monday or Tuesday.
FLASH: WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE DOG was the recent headline in the style section of many newspapers. A multi-millionaire Chinese coal baron purchased an 11 month old, 180-pound Tibetan Mastiff for the princely sum of 1.5 million dollars (10 million yuan)! The new owner believes that he will quickly recoup the purchase price for Hong Dong (Big Splash, in English) with his $16,000+ stud fees. By my calculation, that's almost 100 breedings so I guess Big Splash is going to be mighty busy.

Big Splash's breeder, Lu Liang, from Laoshan, thinks the price is fair. He owns five Tibetan Mastiffs and employs staff to care for his dogs. The TMs are raised on a diet of beef and chicken supplemented by treats of abalone and sea cucumber. In all, he spends $5,000 a month caring for his dogs.

Tibetan Mastiffs have become the ultimate status symbol for China's nouveau riche. Last year, it was a dog named Red Lion that captured attention. After winning the title of Grand Champion at a Chengdu show with an entry of 200, Red Lion was sold for 1.47 million dollars.

The trend for monstrous prices seems to have started in 2009. Headlines blared about another big sale, this time to a Chinese woman named Wang. In search of an outstanding TM, she journeyed to the remote border region between Tibet and China's western Quinghai Province. There she shelled out $582,000 for an 18 month old TM named Yangtze 2. When Wang and her new dog arrived at Xianyang International Airport, they were greeted by a committee of dog lovers holding a big red banner welcoming the TM to the area. Outside, were two Mitsubishi SUVs followed by a convoy of 30 black Mercedes waiting to usher the two home.

While the newspapers decried the excess and questioned the idea that someone would pay so much for a dog in a country with so many poor people, I was struck by a sadder irony. The Chinese elites now treasure the Tibetan Mastiff....yea, nice to hear. But in the 1950s, Chinese soldiers were using rifle butts to bash TMs to death in the streets of Lhasa, Tibet's capital. Actually, it was even more heartbreaking than that. Wary of these traditional and intimidating guard dogs, the military passed a law saying that all TMs must be killed by their own owners and their bodies placed on burning pyres. Those who refused to comply were jailed.

This one edict alone was an all out assault on Tibetan tradition, culture and religion. Dogs have been part of the warp and weft of Tibetan society for hundreds of years. Long before the first European explorers ventured to the Roof of the World, Tibetan people had been sharing their homes with their dogs. At the time, Tibet was probably the most religious country in the world and, in accordance with their Lamastic Buddhism, killing a creature was strictly taboo. I imagine, though, that the Chinese army knew all this and that was the point really, wasn't it? We may never know how many Tibetan dogs were slaughtered at the hands of the Chinese.

Some residents of Lhasa did manage to hide their dogs and others placed them with monks in the monasteries to ensure their survival. Thankfully, dogs in more distant cities and in remote encampments remained safe. As China's economy exploded and there was more money and time for leisure, an interest in purebred dogs began to bloom.
In the 1980s, the Chinese began to take an interest in the Tibetan Mastiff. They began to gather specimens from all areas of the country. They were, of course, the only people in the world who had access to these Tibetan dogs. They alone had the opportunity to gather dogs of different types from the southern valleys and the northern plateau. They built a multi-million dollar modern Tibetan Mastiff Research Center to aid in breeding TMs. Seventy-year-old Mr. Lou Go, the former mayor of Lhasa, who has owned TMs his entire life, is an honored authority. Shows have become lavish, often glitzy affairs with big prizes for the winners. How would you like to win a car for a specialty Best of Breed win?
I can't think of Tibetan Mastiffs without remembering my friend Ann Rohrer. Ann was the first person to introduce me to the breed and was my co-author on The Tibetan Mastiff, Legendary Guardian of the Himalayas. I think she would be absolutely shocked to see what's happened in China. Ann was stationed in Nepal in 1966. There she came to know and love the Tibetan people who had fled to Nepal as refugees following the Chinese takeover of their country. She visited many of their homes and fell in love with the Tibetan Mastiff as well as the Tibetan Spaniel and Tibetan Terrier. It was then and there that she made a promise: she would do everything in her power to prevent the Tibetan Mastiff from becoming extinct. At the time, that surely looked like where the breed was headed.
I first met Ann, via mail, in the 1980s when her manuscript for the book crossed my desk. It was just the latest in Ann's ongoing efforts to see the Tibetan Mastiff gain recognition as an AKC breed. An had already self-published a small booklet, the now very rare The Tibetan Mastiff Book, but now she was hoping to convince a publisher to do a more extensive hardback. The manuscript was flawed, but I was intrigued, both by the breed and by Ann's experiences. We began exchanging a flurry of letters. I was my usual pesky self, prodding and cajoling Ann to always tell me more. Ann had been very modest in the initial manuscript, downplaying her contributions and writing with a detached academic style. I saw Ann as an integral part of the story and I thought readers would be ever bit as interested in her encounters and observations as I was. Gradually, we decided that we would collaborate on the project.
Ann and I were a study in contrasts. Ann was tall and athletic. She joined the Air Force in the 1950s and was sent to Japan. I remember her telling me about the surreal experience of walking down a Tokyo street where people literally stopped to stare at both her Western looks and her height. When she left the Air Force, Ann took a job with a private foundation. She would stay in Japan for a while, and then move on to Taiwan and Burma. If Ann and I had one thing in common it was an intense curiosity. She told me once about her first day in Burma, now Myanmar. She and a co-worker were wandering through the crowded streets of Rangoon. Ann was mesmerized by the gleaming golden pagodas, the huge statues of Buddha and other gods, the giant Foo dogs on raised plinths and the vibrant colors in every hue. Her companion saw only the rats in the gutters and immediately requested another posting. In 1959, Ann signed on with the U.S. foreign aid program and was sent to Katmandu, Nepal and later to Kabul, Afghanistan. And, me...well, I had never ventured outside the country. I was an armchair traveler and a couch potato.

In the years following publication of the Tibetan Mastiff book, a mystique grew about Ann. (Note: That's the cover of the first edition and the color cover which appears on subsequent editions.) Some people took a look at the countries where Ann had been posted and concluded that she was a spy. They would ask me, in hushed tones, if Ann was really with the C.I.A. Such speculation even made it into a book review which appeared in a prominent newspaper. Apparently, other people were every bit as fascinated with Ann's adventures as I was. These stories were an endless sense of merriment for us and always brightened our days.
Ann was an eternal optimist with a steely determination, just the qualities needed to promote a rare breed. She was also motivated by her intense love for a hard luck dog named Kalu. There's a chapter on the story of Kalu in The Tibetan Mastiff which makes for fascinating reading. It tells the story of Kalu's journey from Tibet to Nepal where, while defending livestock, he survived several encounters with snow leopards. After a late night round of heavy drinking, he ends up in the hands of Americans and is later sent to the US. In defending a young child, he mistakenly bites a playmate and is sent to a boarding kennel then placed with an unscrupulous breeder who leaves him chained and half-dead beside a farmhouse. He is rescued by a Good Samaritan and nursed back to health only to be placed in peril once again. Finally, at nine years old, he makes his way to Ann.
Ann always said that, when Kalu arrived, it was love at first sight. Finally, Ann had her own Tibetan Mastiff and Kalu had a home to protect and defend. Her devotion to the dog made her even more determined to work for the breed. And, day by day, as she came to know the dog, she became his biggest fan and knew she had to preserve his legacy. She managed to import a couple of bitches specifically for breeding to him and he became the foundation sire of her Langtang line. He is the first dog registered in the stud books and became one of the pillars of the breed. Ann would go on to found the American Tibetan Mastiff Association. The ATMA now offers the Ann Rohrer Founder's Trophy for the Best of Breed winner at the National Specialty.

Ann was interested in the other Tibetan breeds as well. While she was in Nepal, she managed to secure a Tibetan Terrier which she shipped to Angela Mulliner, in England, to add to British lines. She absolutely adored Tibetan Spaniels, finding them wonderful complements to TMs. She owned several of the breed, including the first ever Mexican and International Champion.
While we were working on the book and in the years after it was published, Ann often spoke about her goals for the breed. She was absolutely determined to see the Tibetan Mastiff gain AKC recognition. Ann felt it would be the fulfillment of that dream that had begun so long ago on a mountainside in Nepal. We dreamed of sitting together ringside at Westminster as we watched the breed make its debut at that legendary show. Sadly, Ann died before she could see these events. I watched Westminster on television in 2009 with tears in my eyes as the TM, Grand Ch. Drakyi Gold Standard was awarded fourth in the Group. Midas was bred by Richard Eichhorn, of Drakyi Kennels, and is co-owned with his handlers Michael and Linda Brantley. He is the first TM to win a Best in Show and the only one to win a group placing at Westminster. This multi Best in Show winner is a descendant of Ann's Kalu. Richard attained his first Tibetan Mastiff, an inbred Kalu daughter, back in 1979, and has bred many champions since.
Ann never married and had no children. She did speak occasionally of a favorite niece who took an interest in her dogs. Shortly after I put up the website, I was contacted by Carol Gordon from Oregon. It turns out she is Ann's niece and she now raises TMs. Carol has named her kennel Kacher Village. She was kind enough to send photos of her Sagun (which translates, in Tibetan, to "a magnificent gift"). That's his puppy picture at the top of the column. Grand Champion Drakyi Sagun Kacher is a Group winner and currently the number four TM in the country. He's also a Kalu descendant. I know Ann would be thrilled.

Kalu's name appears many times (now in the 12th generation removed) in the pedigree of the top winning Tibetan Mastiff of all time, Grand Champion Sengkri Bartok of Dawa, owned by Dan Nechemias and Lois Claus, of Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs, and handled in the ring by Ed Thomason. This big red fellow made an instant impression on everyone who saw him. He had a commanding presence, flawless movement and he loved competing. Lois says that shows were all a big game to Bart who loved spending time with his buddy, Ed. After a weekend at the shows, Bart would sleep till noon on Mondays. It will probably be many years before another TM tops his record of 10 Bests in Show. In 2009, Bart won a second in Group at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championships.
Sadly, this newsletter has to end on a sad note. In February, Bartok died from a rare strain of meningitis. I asked his owner Lois about the dog and she described Bart as having a "heart as big as Mount Everest and a memory longer than most." For those not familiar with the breed, Tibetan Mastiffs are wary of strangers and fiercely protective of their family. People who met Bart saw a stoic dog with a protective demeanor. Lois says that Bart was "discerning when it came to the circle of people that he trusted and allowed into his personal space and world....Bart never forgot and could tell with a sniff of the air friend from foe. He was a brave soul who would no doubt have given himself to protect his people." He was the ultimate alpha dog at Dawa, something Lois says he accomplished just by his sheer presence, without resorting to growls or any other show of dominance.

Those few people, however, that were included in Bart's inner circle were able to see another aspect of the dog's personality: Bart could be "goofy and downright silly." Lois says he was like a big puppy who delighted in dancing around while playing. He loved chomping on his toys and throwing them high in the air. Those who chuckled at his antics were rewarded with soft kisses. "Bart was as all Tibetan Mastiffs should be: a protector, a fearless companion and a silly puppy."

Our condolences to Lois and Dan and I thank them for telling me about Bart and allowing me to show several of his photos.
You can find more of them on Bartok's page at the Dawa website.
One of the wonderful things about writing this newsletter is all the feedback I receive. I've made contact with so many other collectors that are just as crazy as I am. After reading Newsletter 11: Terhune Stories and Old Friends, I heard from Lillian Puchalski, who has owned and bred Collies for over 40 years. (Her smooth blue merle just earned her tracking degree.) About 20 years ago, a friend saw an ad for an upcoming sale by a Terhune relative. Lillian was fortunate enough to buy a number of things, including a framed photo of Albert Payson Terhune that had hung at Sunnybank.

Among the items she purchased was a manuscript by Anice Terhune. Many people don't realize that Terhune's wife was a writer in her own right, publishing several books and numerous magazine articles. She penned an autobiography of Terhune shortly after his death. The manuscript she bought is 22 pages in length and was probably intended as a magazine article. It's difficult to tell if it was actually published. It bears the heading: "Anice Terhune, Sunnybank, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey," and probably hails from the about 1920. Sadly, it's not about dogs. Lillian is paring down her collection and would like to sell this piece. Anyone who is interested can contact her at:

Well, I guess that I'll close for now. I hope you are all enjoying the spring weather.

Happy Collecting,

Cathy, Harvey, Matt & Cocoa