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Aid arrives for Tibetan mastiffs, forgotten victims of Yushu earthquake

May 7, 2010

From The Times

May 3, 2010

Officials say that 300 mastiffs were crushed to death when their kennels
collapsed. Many that survived have been running wild

Jane Macartney, China Correspondent

Aid has arrived at last for the world's most expensive dogs, left
homeless, and often masterless, after last month's earthquake in
northwest China that killed more than 2,000 people

The narrow road to the small Tibetan town of Yushu, destroyed by last
month's 7.1-magnitude tremor, is clogged with lorries carrying aid,
food, medicine and warm clothes to 100,000 made homeless. Now eight
tonnes of dog food have also been delivered.

Dogs, and frenetic summer horse races, have made Yushu famous across
China. Its prized Tibetan mastiffs, the most expensive canines on Earth,
are the town's real treasure.

The early-morning earthquake on April 14 killed at least 2,183 people
and left almost everyone homeless as brittle mud-built traditional
Tibetan homes and low-rise apartment blocks and offices simply crumpled.
Officials say that 300 mastiffs were crushed to death when their kennels
collapsed. Many of those that survived have been running wild and
terrified without their owners, biting rescue workers.

The dogs were once housed in elaborate kennels that lined the only road
on the edge of the town. Enormous photographs of the huge, lion-maned,
jowly dogs decorated the walls of these tightly guarded compounds, aimed
at attracting buyers from across China to one of the costliest status
symbols prized by the country's newly rich. Now they, like their human
masters, are homeless.

Before the earthquake, almost every Tibetan home was guarded by a
mastiff, famed for their loyalty and a bite every bit as vicious as
their bark. These qualities have pumped up their value.

One popular saying has it that to show a man has really made it rich in
China, he needs a young and lovely bride, a Lamborghini, a sprawling
villa, a thoroughbred horse and the largest, most ferocious Tibetan
mastiff to be found.

Yushu was the biggest breeding centre in China for these huge beasts,
sometimes weighing up to 18 stone (115 kg). Domesticated 6,000 years
ago, they have adapted to the thin air and their shaggy coats protect
them in Tibet's freezing temperatures. Marco Polo described the mastiff
as being as tall as a donkey and with a voice like a lion.

Only last month a buyer in central Sichuan province paid a record 10
million yuan (£1 million) for a grand champion. Red Lion eats one
kilogram of fresh beef a day, along with other foods, because he is
young and still growing.

The mastiffs in Yushu, many of them breeding champions hired out for
200,000 yuan (£20,000) per occasion to mate with a bitch, will need 200
tonnes of dog food over the next three months. But all local supply
shops were razed in the earthquake.

Already donations raised on the internet across have reached 21.7
tonnes. But Yushu is believed to be home to as many as 20,000 of the
valuable animals, many going hungry after the earthquake. Although, dog
fanciers would argue that fewer than 100 are purebreds.
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