BAODING, CHINA – Drooping eyes barely visible behind a mountain of glossy black fur, an enormous dog snoozes on stage in an industrial Chinese city. Its asking price: close to $1 million dollars.
“This is the greatest dog in China,” breeder Yao Yi said as he stroked a year-old Tibetan mastiff, up for sale on Saturday for 5 million yuan ($800,000), at a dog show in Baoding, a few hours’ drive from Beijing.
Massive and sometimes ferocious, with round manes lending them a passing resemblance to lions, Tibetan mastiffs have become a prized status symbol among China’s wealthy, with rich buyers across the country sending prices skyrocketing.
One red mastiff named Big Splash reportedly sold for 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in 2011, in the most expensive dog sale then recorded.
Owners say the mastiffs, descendents of dogs used for hunting by nomadic tribes in central Asia and Tibet, are fiercely loyal and protective.
Breeders still journey to the Himalayan Plateau to collect young puppies. Most of the puppies are unable to adjust to low altitudes and die during the journey.
The booming market has attracted a fair share of frauds, with some passing off crossbred dogs for pedigrees, using artificial hair extensions made with dog fur, the China Daily reported.
Intensive breeding has led to dangerous numbers of inbred mastiffs.
Out-of-control Tibetan mastiffs have also carried out attacks across China, with one dog wounding nine people in a frenzied attack in Beijing in 2012.
Regulations in Beijing and other major Chinese cities ban residents from keeping large dogs in downtown areas, but rules are sometimes flouted. “It’s like the one-child policy,” said vendor Zhang Ming, referring to rules limiting the number of children families can have. The rules often can be circumvented by paying fines to authorities.