Today I want to share with you a very special dog – and his equally special owner. The Neapolitan Mastiff isn’t a breed for everyone. He is a noble animal with a proud and ancient history, strong-willed and needing an equally strong-minded owner. Sadly many are bought by the wrong people and for the wrong reasons, and too many are bred by the wrong people – again for the wrong reasons. This has led to many Mastini being seen that have conformational faults and poor temperaments. Yes, this is a guarding breed, but as with all such he should not attack without provocation and should rather be a calm and powerful defender of his family.
When you do meet a good one you are taken back in time. It’s easy to imagine them accompanying the Roman armies as they ranged through Europe. There is something almost primeval in their noble heads and the disconcerting stare with which they evaluate a newcomer. Friend or foe? Once they decide, there will be no changing their mind. As I say, not a dog for everyone.
The first time I ever saw a Neapolitan Mastiff was at the Winner Show in Amsterdam, some thirty years or so ago. A male, called simply Caligula, he powered round the group ring and sent shivers down the spine. After that I met a few, but with their very weak fronts, weeping eyes, and decidedly iffy temperaments I felt they were a breed to be avoided at all costs. However some breeders have been working hard to produce dogs that still have the required nobleness of type, but are sound and not overdone. Four years ago my opinion of he breed changed when Kim Slater posted on Facebook some photographs of her visit to Rome and the chunky confident puppy that she was going to bring back to the UK. In describing Freddo dei Mastini dela Rupe I can do no better than use Kim’s own words:
“I felt like I was given a winning lottery ticket when Nello la Rupe gifted me this puppy. I travelled to Italy to meet him for the first time and we walked around the centre of Rome on a sunny January morning. He travelled to the UK in March with a friend’s Pugs who were being shown at Crufts – which has resulted in him loving little dogs wherever he goes. He has enjoyed great success in the UK show ring, but more important than that is the incredible amount of money he raised for the Pedigree Paws Unite sponsored walk, and his proudest moment was presenting a cheque for £10,000 to the Ty Hafan children’s hospice. The World Dog Show was an adventure for us, but we wanted to give Nello his dream – to see Freddo and his brother Falco in the ring together. And what a dream it turned out to be, with Falco taking BOB and Freddo winning the Open class and CAC. I love Freddo too much, he is a total Mummy’s boy, but goes to work with Mati, and enjoys the perfect life of a pet. I am ever so proud of all he grew up to be – my beautiful boy, inside and out.”
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I think Kim’s words convey beautifully the pride she has in her special boy – but they don’t give any indication of the hours of effort that she and Mati have put into his upbringing and socialisation. To rear a dog of this size and keep him in such wonderful condition is no mean feat. Good temperament is something that all breeders should keep in the forefront of their mind but, especially in a breed that is by nature watchful, it must be nurtured. Taking him to the WDS was not just a case of an ego trip for his owners. Every time Kim and Freddo are out together is an opportunity to publicise not only this ancient breed, but also to enable people to get a sense of its power and majesty.
Kim is one of the greatest examples of how to obtain positive publicity for pedigree dogs. Not for her, hiding the dogs away in crates and only bringing them out to go in the show ring. On the contrary, on her visit to Germany Freddo and his daughter were stroked and fussed by many, especially small children, who were awestruck by these magnificent creatures. They even appeared on German TV!
Although she is a superb publicist for the Neapolitan Mastiff, Kim is not unique. Most of those who have breeds that are a little out of the ordinary are passionate about them, and will take every opportunity to talk about their breeds. Show ring success gives great satisfaction to both owner and breeder, and at group level does bring a minority breed into the public eye – or at least into the peripheral vision of other exhibitors, but it is only by talking about our dogs, whether at an organised event such as Discover Dogs or simply on a walk in the park or a visit to the vet, that we can bring our breeds to the attention of a wider public.
It is not just the Neapolitan Mastiff – the Komondor is another specialist breed that is not suited to first time dog ownership but has a small and dedicated following worldwide. Amongst our own native breeds, it is hard to understand why the amiable and even-tempered Otterhound struggles for survival, when Labradoodles and Goldendoodles are highly sought after and command a higher price as puppies. How shameful it would be if we, through our obsession for the latest fashionable ‘must have’ allowed these noble animals to die out. We owe a huge vote of thanks to Kim Slater and her fellow enthusiasts, both Mastini owners and those in other breeds that are in a similar situation for the sterling work that they do in promoting the concept of happy, healthy dogs.