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Tag: tibet

Tibetan mastiffs going out of style in China


Tibetan mastiffs, which once fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars each in the Chinese marketplace, are going out of style.

The New York Times reports that the lion-like dogs — all the rage among the wealthy in China just two years ago — are quickly becoming yesterday’s trend.

The reasons? A slowing economy for one, coupled with “an official austerity campaign that has made ostentatious consumption a red flag for anti-corruption investigators.” On top of that, the fad is doing what fads do — fade away, often, when it comes to dogs, with disturbing consequences.

About half of the country’s mastiff breeders have left the business, and those that are left are dealing with a surplus so severe that members of the breed can now be spotted on trucks laden with dogs headed to slaughterhouses.

About 20 mastiffs were on one such truck, with 150 other dogs, when it was stopped by Beijing animal rights activists who purchased the entire load from the driver and sent the surviving dogs to rescue organizations.

The Times says that, amid decreasing demand, the average asking price for mastiffs, which have reportedly sold for as much as $1.6 million, has dropped to around $2,000.

“If I had other opportunities, I’d quit this business,” said Gombo, a veteran breeder in China’s northwestern province of Qinghai. “The pressure we’re under is huge.”

Since 2013, about half the 95 breeders in Tibet have gone under, according to the Tibetan Mastiff Association.

“In some ways, the cooling passion for Tibetan mastiffs reflects the fickleness of a consuming class that adopts and discards new products with abandon,” the Times reported.

“Fads are a huge driving force in China’s luxury market,” Liz Flora, editor in chief of Jing Daily, a marketing research company in Beijing, told the Times.  ”Han Chinese consumers have been willing to pay a premium for anything associated with the romanticism of Tibet.”

Other factors in the trend’s demise include unscrupulous breeders who mated purebred Tibetan mastiffs with other breeds, and the breed’s reputation of being aggressive.

Tibetan mastiffs are fiercely loyal, increasing the likelihood of attacks on strangers, experts say, and in the past couple of years some Chinese cities have banned the breed.

(Photo: Nibble, a Tibetan mastiff, was checked by veterinarians after being saved from the slaughterhouse by a group of animal rights activists; by Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times)

Roadside Encounters: Tugg

Name: Tugg

Breed: Lhasa Apso

Age: 16 months

Encountered: At Volunteer Park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Backstory: “Joyful, dignified, mischievous and aloof.” That’s how the American Kennel Club describes the personality of the Lhasa Apso. The personality of Tugg — while he looks pretty dignified at left – may be completely different, for all I know.

I only spent a couple of minutes with him — most of that taking photographs, which he didn’t seem to mind at all — before his human, Amanda, took off.

The breed originated hundreds of years ago in the remote Himalayan Mountains, and served mainly to guard the homes of Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries. Those were near the sacred city of Lhasa.

That explains the Lhasa, but what about the Apso? According to, there are two theories.

One is that it comes from rapso, the Tibetan word for goat. Supposedly, the breed’s coat resembled that of the goats kept by Tibetan herders. Another is that because of the breed’s role guarding sacred places, ancient Tibetans referred to it as apso seng kye, which translates into “bark lion sentinel dog.”

I don’t know which, if either, is right.

The message I got from Tugg — whose face, to me, even without the setting sun dappling it, reflected both wisdom and inscrutability – was that he’d prefer the mystery to remain.

Tibetan earthquake also took toll on mastiffs

The earthquake in northwest China that killed more than 2,000 people and left an estimated 100,000 homeless also took a huge toll on Tibetan mastiffs.

Officials say that 300 Tibetan mastiffs were crushed to death in the small Tibetan town of Yushu when their kennels collapsed in, and those that survived have been running wild and terrified without their owners.

Yushu, the breeding center for Tibetan mastiffs,  is believed to be home to as many as 20,000 members of the breed. 

The dogs — a status symbol in China, where they can sell at upwards of $100,000 — were once housed in elaborate kennels that lined the only road on the edge of the town. Now, the Times of London reports, they, like their human masters, are homeless.

The relief effort has seen about 8 tons of dog food have arrived in Yushu, where all local supply shops were razed in the earthquake.

(Photo: Joe Chan / Reuters)