Persistence of Memory in Mastiffs

Old School Mastiffs is located in central Virginia, USA.

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Old School Mastiffs Meet the Breeder Article - Originally Published in the Mastiff Club of America Journal
Written by Donna Bahlman

It was 1974 and my husband had just graduated from pharmacy school in Richmond, VA. We decided that we wanted to live in the country and we found a very unique old school that had been converted to a home in rural central Virginia--and we fell in love with it. That "old school house" has been our home ever since.
My husband worked very long hours in town and I was left alone a lot. We had a German Shepherd that was getting older so we decided to get another large dog for my protection. We had seen a picture of a Mastiff in a dog book and were resolved to try and find one. We were very fortunate to find a breeder in Maryland (Lorraine Hall, Nanjemoy Mastiffs) through an advertisement in the Washington Post.
We knew absolutely nothing about Mastiffs other than the picture from the dog book and had no idea what we were getting into. Hannibal's litter and his mother were the first Mastiffs we had ever seen and we were very impressed! Hannibal stood out to us because he was a beautiful apricot brindle that we thought looked like a tiger. We had no clue that this dog would become such a big part of our lives.
We joined a local obedience club, but soon decided that it was not something we wanted to pursue. Hannibal learned everything by the end of each class, but everyone always made fun of him because he did everything in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n. I know now that laconic personality is one of the Mastiff's traits that I consider to be a huge plus!
Since obedience was not our thing, Lorraine suggested that we show him in conformation instead. That was the true beginning of Old School Mastiffs. Hannibal won Winners Dog at his first show--despite his handler. I had no clue what I was doing, but with that first experience I was hooked! I don't think Hannibal was. He never really liked to show, but I think he did it just to make me happy. Also, he always enjoyed the attention he got outside of the ring.
This dog became such a big part of our family--he helped raise our children. I could write a whole book about Hannibal! Our German Shepherd gave him nothing but grief his whole life, but Hannibal was so considerate and patient with this cantankerous old dog. Hannibal was supposed to be our guard dog but he didn't have a mean bone in his body. What we learned from him is the lesson that Mastiffs don't need to be mean to be effective "guard dogs". Their size and body language are enough to deter any potential confrontation. Case in point: One day while I was out doing yard work with Hannibal sitting out in our front yard with me, a man came walking down the road in front of our house. The moment that man saw Hannibal he immediately climbed a tree faster than I could believe and he refused to come down until I put Hannibal in the house. Hannibal never barked, he just sat there with a curious look on his face, but that's all it took.
Because of our wonderful experience with Hannibal we were very impressed with the Mastiff breed, so we began to research these wonderful dogs to learn as much as possible. I began by looking at pedigrees and contacting all the Mastiff publications I could find. Through my research I encountered many people that were wonderful and eager to help me. Patricia Hoffman was especially helpful and considerate. She helped me learn a great deal about the dogs in Hannibal's pedigree, including Ch. Threebees Friar of Copenore who sired Am.Can.Ch. Tiberias of Kisumu, a very famous English import and Hannibal's sire. Hannibal's mother came from Berngarth and Peach Farm lines.
After much research I decided that the Havengore mastiffs had the look I liked and that I wanted to try and help preserve this wonderful breed. That's when I began the search for a female that would complement Hannibal. He had his faults (there is NO perfect dog, all a breeder can do is try their best to strive towards that goal, and it hasn't happened yet) and we kept them in mind as we searched for the right complement. We saw a dog we really liked at the Old Dominion Kennel Club show, Ch. Grand Duke O'Fern owned by Mrs. Fontaine of Le Mars Mastiffs. He was an amazing dog. Marie Moore was judging that day and when her eyes fell on "Captain" I could tell that there wasn't a dog in the ring that had a chance against him that day. After the show we talked to Mrs. Fontaine and leaned of a litter due by Captain out of a bitch that went back to Hannibal's sire Tiberais. We resolved to wait for a puppy from this litter but, as happens so often in Mastiffs, it was not to be. The breeding did not take and we were referred by Mrs. Fontaine to Massalane Kennels. This is where we purchased our foundation bitch Mistress Julia of Massalane. Julie's pedigree went back to Threebees and Havengore lines and we were very fortunate that she matured into the perfect complement to Hannibal.
Julie and Hannibal had some exceptional puppies that we mostly sold into companion homes. We made a lot of friends through the puppies we sold, and--if you want to call this a sad part of breeding Mastiffs--we have been breeding so long that we have had quite a few repeat buyers. From Hannibal and Julie we kept an apricot brindle female that we named Old School Trouble. I found the dog to breed Trouble to at another dog show. Dog shows are the perfect place for breeders to do hands on research for their breeding program. I saw what exceptional dogs Hannibal's littermates (Ch. Nanjemoy's Kareem, Ch. Nanjemoy's Etasha, and Nanjemoy's Badness) turned out to be and we had a much better idea of what we really had in Hannibal. At the 1979 M.C.O.A National Specialty I saw a dog named Deer Run Florister Rufus that really made an impression. I don't think he ever finished, but to me he was what a Mastiff should be--huge bone, lots of body and a huge beautiful head--and his pedigree was a perfect match with Trouble's. Rufus' mother was Hannibal's sister and Rufus' sire, Ch. Deer Run Noah of Massalane was a littermate to Julie's mother. This was the actual beginning of our line breeding practices. We could have bred to any number of the more popular studs of the time but it was my impression of Rufus in person, and my understanding of his pedigree, that led me to choose him for this breeding. I have always looked for studs in this manner. First, I see a dog I really like, and then I look at his pedigree, and if possible, look at what he has been producing with different bitches. It is not always the most popular stud, or the top winning studs that will bring the best things to your breeding program.
This breeding of Rufus to Trouble produced 2 puppies, one being Ch. Old School's Ursa Major and the other being her sister Bell. We sold Bell to a very nice couple that had a home on the way to Nags Head, NC where we vacationed every summer. We got to visit Bell every year and watched her mature into a beautiful apricot bitch with a wonderful and loving home. We began to show Ursa and she finished very quickly. We decided to bring her 1983 M.C.O.A. National Specialty in Memphis, TN. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we could win Best of Breed at a National Specialty. Ursa won Best of Breed that year, breeder/owner handled under English breeder/judge Betty Baxter. At the time, it was the most memorable experience of my life, except for the birth of my children.
We chose to breed Ursa to Ch. Deer Run McMunger, who I had seen at a dog show and liked. When I looked at his pedigree I found out why. His dam was sired by Hannibal's brother, Ch. Nanjemoy's Kareem. We had our trials and tribulations with breeding Ursa. Our first breeding with McMunger left Ursa with pyo and with us crushed. It was Jackie Guy (Peersleigh Mastiffs) who saved us from spaying Ursa. She told us about an experimental treatment for pyo at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. We tried the treatments and were very fortunate that they were successful. Our next breeding to McMunger took and from that we ended up with our beloved Ch. Old School's Panama Red.
Red, like Hannibal, was no great show dog, but he was everything you would want in a Mastiff. Every morning my husband would ask Red if he wanted to go to work, and if he did, he would get up and go to the door. Red entertained all of the children (and adults) that came to the pharmacy. People would look in the door and ask if Red was there, and if he wasn't they'd just leave.
I suppose our most famous dog came from the breeding of Ursa to Ch. Deer Run Ezekiel. Ezekiel's sire, Ch. Deer Run Ivan, was one of my favorite dogs, and his grand sire was Captain from the Le Mars kennel and went back to the bitch that I originally wanted to get a puppy from that went back to Tiberias. Ezekiel was so impressive when he moved and he had a wonderful front and lots of reach and drive. We did 2 breedings of Ursa to Ezekiel. From the first litter we kept Ch. Old School's Sergeant Major and Ch. Old School's Majestic Major. Sarge was the mascot for my son's soccer team. My daughter's horse Maggie was his best friend and I think he thought she was a dog (I think she did too) and he would follow her around (I think) waiting for her to come into heat! Major liked to play soccer and ruined many soccer balls (and any other kind of ball) in the process. From the second breeding of Ursa and Ezekiel we kept Ch. Old School's Primo Remo Major and Ch. Old School's Mitra Major. Remo was probably one of the best dogs we have ever bred. He had size, bone, body, topline, nice rear, nice front, beautiful head, excellent pigment, and excellent movement. He was not a flashy, showy dog, but he finished with three 5-point-majors in a row and went Best of Breed out of the classes each time. He won Best of Breed at the 1988 M.C.O.A. National Specialty under Kenneth Buxton and he helped us to win the Breeders Cup that year along with his siblings Mitra and Major. (Flying 3 Mastiffs from Virginia to Washington State and back is another story…) Remo was one of the first Mastiffs to win both an All-Breed Best in Show and also win Best of Breed at the M.C.O.A. National Specialty. Remo spent a lot of his time away from home with his handlers who he loved (Pam Mosesian and Damara Bolte) but he adjusted well to his retirement back home with us. His sister Mitra won an Award of Merit at the 1998 Specialty and went Best of Opposite Sex at the Specialty the following year. She was a beautiful dark brindle bitch with amazing structure, beautiful movement, and excellent type. We learned great deal about the good will of the mastiff community during a terrible experience when we lost Mitra during a thunderstorm and she was missing for several weeks running loose in the country near our home. Cathy Babbins, Pam Mosesian (now Reid), and Charlie Boyer came down to help us search for her. They provided practical help and moral support during a very difficult time, and in the end, Mitra ended up finding her own way home.
For Ursa's final breeding we chose Ch. Autumn Rivers Big Ben owned by Bonnie Korn and bred by Virginia Bregman. Ben was a very impressive brindle dog with an amazing rear and a super temperament. I don't know how many times I made the trip to New York to Virgina Bregman's (Lazy Hill Louth) the Coursey's (Tullamore Bandit O'Lazy Hill) and the Korn's (Ben). I was determined to get a breeding with one of the Lazy Hill dogs. Everyone talked about what an excellent dog Ch. Dawnwind Romulus (Stinger) was, and said that he was what was contributing to the qualities that I admired in the Lazy Hill dogs. I also really liked Ch. Greenbrier's Shambeau and felt certain that this was the outcross I needed to make for my line. It was with the breeding to Ben that Ursa finally got pregnant and we kept an apricot bitch from the litter, Old School's Autumn Ben Major. Butter (as we called her) brought in the outcross we needed to our line. Whenever we do a breeding, it is because we want a puppy from that breeding to keep for our line. Every breeding is carefully planned, with concern for where the line will be going for several generations in the future. We may have 3 generations of breedings planned before the 1st generation is even born.
It is the 4 litters out of Ursa that really established the foundation of the Old School line. From there we began to bring these lines together, and we then introduced other lines along the way that contributed a great deal to our breeding program. LaVelle Knight of Blacknight Mastiffs used Red with 3 of her bitches and we took a pick bitch from one of the bitches that went back to Hannibal and Stinger. Ch. Blacknight Victoria O'School was Reserve Winners Bitch from the 9-12 Puppy Class at the 1982 M.C.O.A. National Specialty and her daughter Maddie (the pick puppy we took from her breeding to Red) was a very typey girl with a wonderful temperament and massive, square rear. The Blacknight line contributed very broad bodies and wide square rears to our line. Another line we brought in through a stud puppy was the Banyon line (which was also founded by linebreeding on Tiberais). Mike McCalister of Tintagel Mastiffs bred Ch. Tintagel's Oreo to our Sarge x Butter son Sagar and we took a pick male from the litter, Old School Tintagel's Blake. The introduction of this line brought us massive, square heads, large bone, and beautiful black brindles, and combined with the Blacknight lines gave us one of the most beautiful, sweet, and typey bitches we've bred, Ch. Old School's Drucilla. Dru finished with all majors, 2 of which were 5-point-majors at supported entries under breeder judges (Richard Thomas of Bredwardine Mastiffs and Jim Zellen of Banyon Mastiffs) and Best of Opposite Sex out of the classes. Another Blake daughter, Ch. Old School's Panache finished with a 5-point-major under Betty Baxter of Farnaby Mastiffs at the Bucks County supported show, and she also took and Award of Merit at the 2000 M.C.O.A. National Specialty under Eve Olsen-Fisher.
I was looking for a long time for some English bloodlines to add to our breeding program, but I wanted something different from what was around. I saw Sw.Den.Fin.Nor.Ch. Alvedor's Aragorn at the 1995 M.C.O.A. Specialty in Tennessee. Gorn was very inbred with Eng. Ch. Hollesley Medicine Man. I never saw Medicine Man in person but I did see photos and a video of him and he was an incredible dog. Bill St.Clair (who had imported Gorn from the Ohman's of Alvedor Mastiffs) was kind enough to let us keep Gorn for a while and breed to him. We drove from Virginia to St. Louis to pick Gorn up, and he sat between the front seats with his head on my husband's shoulder all the way back to Virginia. I was very happy with the puppies we got from Gorn, especially their type and huge round bone.
Our breeding program continues on today as we strive to combine all of the lines that we have brought into our breeding program. After 30 years of breeding we have had so many wonderful dogs and I don't have space to mention all of them. They were all dearly loved and I can see characteristics of all of them in the dogs we have today. Ch. Old School's Surprise Truck (Mongo) was a huge typey boy with an amazing head, but the most important thing about him was his impact on our lives. His beautiful, intelligent, goofy, sweet temperament touched our hearts and because of him we have Junior (Ch. Old School's Junior). Anyone that has been to our house or who has met Junior at a dog show knows what I am talking about when I say that Junior is unique. He is a Mastiff--or as Richard Thomas put it in his critique of Junior at the Somerset show in 2004 "Every inch a mastiff" and I wouldn't have him any other way.
I don't plan on breeding very many more litters but here are a few words of advice I have for any breeder starting out today that I've learned through my experience:
Sit down and read the standard. Closely. Carefully. Understand it. Then write down your goals as a breeder. When I started out as a breeder, I made a list of what was important to me and I put it on my bulletin board in the kitchen so I would see it all the time. This helped me stay focused and it kept me from getting off track. Don't let dog shows or the opinions of other breeders affect your decisions as a breeder. Stay true to the standard and stay true to your goals. I am asking breeders to keep their breed the way they were meant to be. Let the standard be your guide. Do not let anything else influence you.


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