Before I go any further I should like to take a moment to express my admiration for those who undertook the not inconsiderable time, cost and effort of importing a TM to the UK in the 1980’s. Over the last few years a number of dogs have been imported to the United Kingdom, both via the Pet Passport scheme and through quarantine, and I speak from experience when I say this can be a long and drawn out process. However we now have the benefit of the Internet, cheap flights and a European road network that allows us to be virtually anywhere in Europe in two days, none of these were available back then and although it was not that long ago I do think we take for granted how much easier these things have become, so hats off to all these latter day “pioneers”.
Of course by the mid 1980’s the need for a breed club was becoming more pressing and the Inaugural meeting of the proposed Tibetan Mastiff Club of Great Britain was held on October 23rd 1987. The first Annual General Meeting was held in April 1988 with Mrs Anne Wynyard appointed President whilst Peter Rees-Jones and Maureen Fletcher were elected to the positions of Chairman and Hon Secretary respectively. In the two years that followed membership virtually doubled, no small feat for a rare breed club and a small handful of those elected to the Committee are still active in the breed today. Throughout the 1980s TMs were shown by a dedicated band and, in 1992, at the first Club Open Show, under Judge Mrs Marie-Madeleine Kerherve of the de la Tour Chandos Kennel, Best in Show was awarded to Chortens Cobi Lingka. In 1990 ten Tibetan Mastiffs were exhibited at Crufts in the Any Variety (Working) class but the following year saw the breed scheduled its own classes for the first time with 27 dogs entered. Mr W. O’Loughlin was the judge and found his Best of Breed in Chokola Ku-She (better known as Moose) owned by Karen Giles. The following year after taking BOB at Crufts under Anne Wynyard Chortens Ben Sharbaz went to live in France, with Evelyne Collombet. A successful show career continued with French and Intl titles achieved followed by the World Winner title at the World Dog Show Berne in 1994 under Christofer Habig.
Puppy numbers varied greatly in the eighties from none registered in 1983/4 to a high of 45 in the winter of 1989 and it is noticeable that many current TM owners in the UK are unaware of such kennel names as Rarewood, Delviento, Conrikyi, Rockanoar to name just a few. These kennels were instrumental in establishing the breed, in numbers, in the UK but mention of these names is often greeted with blank looks nowadays. It is perhaps the way of things with a rare breed that more people than normal who own the breed fall by the wayside if they are not actively encouraged or they do not achieve the success they desire. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw registrations continue to increase, broadly speaking, and with the continued arrival of additional imports carrying on into the 1990s the gene pool diversified and future of the breed must have looked quite healthy. Interestingly despite the number of imports reaching double figures it appears many of these failed to make a lasting impact on the breed. A French import whose name you will hopefully all know - Jhelum Ben Son de la Chevauchee des Dieux was registered, along with his sister Jhani, in 1995 and as you may have gathered from his name he was sired by, the previously mentioned, Chortens Ben Sharbaz He sired several litters and one litter in particular to a Kangchung bitch (Kangchung Lady Cleo of Heronsview) produced the top winning Tibetan Mastiff bitch of all time in the UK- Heronsview Blue Chuba in Sobarna whilst her littermate Heronsview Downtown Boy was for a long time the record holding male in the UK. Some of these imports were used more than others and, as is always the case, some were of better quality than others. As somebody who has only been involved with the breed since 2003 I often wonder if more liberal quarantine laws would have made a significant difference to the development of this breed in the UK? Those imports that showed real promise and bearing were, of course, used by those who felt they needed to improve their stock but this lead to something of a bottleneck. I shy away from criticising those who made these breeding decisions at the time as hindsight is truly a wonderful thing but it is the responsibility of us all to learn from this and look forward and decide in which direction we wish to take our lines. One of the things you will often hear owners of any rare breed in the UK bemoan is the lack of recognition from judges when compared to the more established breeds and there does seem to be some truth in this. In the past we have speculated that the “carrot” of making up a possible UK Champion may have attracted more people to the breed although now this is possible it does not, for now at least, seem to be the case. That aside a more long term view where bloodlines and breeding are concerned must be a priority for all breeders in the UK if the breed is to move forward.