Tibetan Mastiff becomes world's priciest dog: Chinese woman pays $600,000

MastiffWould you pay more than a half a million dollars for a dog? A woman from Northern China has just taken delivery of what has reportedly become the most expensive dog in the world for which she paid 4 million yuan, or about $600,000.

The 18-month-old Tibetan mastiff, called Yangtze River Number Two, arrived at its new home in Xi'an yesterday.

Upon its arrival in Xi'an airport, Yangtze River Number Two was greeted by dog lovers waving welcome banners. According to reports, the dog's owner, identified only as Mrs. Wang, arranged for a motorcade of 30 black Mercedes-Benz cars led by two sports utility vehicles to transport the canine to its new home in style.

To guarantee that her massive expenditure was not overlooked among her social circle, reports say that Mrs. Wang contacted her wealthy friends after making the purchase, and spread the word about the exact price of her new pet as well as her arrival time in Xi'an. The dog's welcome crowd was so large and lavish, that passersby gathered round thinking a human celebrity was in their midst.

The millionairess has reportedly been searching for the perfect dog for years. This dog, which she spotted in Yushu made the grade. "Gold has a price," she said, "But this Tibetan mastiff doesn't."

In China, this ancient breed goes by nicknames such as "Miraculous Beast", "Number One Dog" and "Antique Dog." Buddha and Genghis Khan kept them as companions. Marco Polo wrote of seeing them in the Orient. They are fabled to play a huge part in maintaining ecological balance (both spiritually and physically) in their native habitat, the Tibetan Plateau, where sadly, they are now quite rare. They are reputed to be one of the oldest breeds still in existence and archaeological evidence suggests they served as guard dogs in China as early as 1000 B.C..

With fewer than 160 pure bred descendants of the original Tibetan mastiffs currently in existence, these dogs are certainly rare. Mrs. Wang's new companion has a good shot at padding away with a trophy at a major kennel show if he's properly trained. In 2008, the breed was entered in the renowned Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the first time, although the ultimate prize was taken home by a much smaller dog -- a Beagle named Uno.

Chinese dog-watchers are certainly a new phenomenon in a land where keeping dogs as pets was banned under the reign of Mao Zedong who described dog owners as time-wasters. Large dogs are still outlawed in Beijing where it is illegal to register a dog larger than 35 cms (13 inches). Dog ownership in general is reserved for the wealthier population in cities like Beijing, where the annual license fee can run as high as 1,000 yuan or ($150) – an astronomical sum for the city's blue collar workers (textile workers' salaries averaged averaged less than 20,000 yuan or $5,689 in 2008).

Perhaps China's dog-loving elite, who now enjoy a level of wealth previously reserved for non-Chinese, will help shift the reputation of the lowly dog from a restaurant entree, to the position the animals enjoy in the rest of the world -- that of man's (or woman's) best friend.

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