Mar 24, 2010 1:03 PM
BEIJING - China's latest must-have luxury for the ultra-rich, to go with mansions and sports cars, is a large dog with massive amounts of hair best known for herding sheep in Tibet.
Once banned by the Communist Party as bourgeois, pet ownership is booming in China, and the Tibetan mastiff is the dog of the moment for those who want to spread their wealth beyond stocks and real estate.
"I used to invest in German shepherds, but Tibetan mastiffs are what's hot right now," said Sui Huizheng, a business owner who has about 20 of the dogs and attended the 6th annual China Tibetan Mastiff Expo this past weekend. Hundreds of the hairy dogs were on hand, and owners and handlers marched the most expensive ones down catwalks as though they were fashion models.
Their hoped-for prize: breeders willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a mate for their mastiff. One breeding session with Sui's top mastiff King goes for $40,000.
While the Tibetan craze is going strong, the same prices aren't being seen world wide.
"I can understand racehorses and diamonds, but I don't understand why someone would want to pay half a million dollars for a dog," said Martha Feltenstein, president of the American Tibetan Mastiff Association. "They have a relatively short life expectancy and are not especially rare, so it's quite puzzling why they are fetching such a high price in China." In the U.S., Tibetan mastiff pups can be bought for as little as several hundred dollars, Feltenstein said.
Breeders in China say adult Tibetan mastiffs sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and can even go for more than $100,000. One of them sold for more than half a million dollars last year to a woman in northern China who then sent 30 black Mercedes-Benz to fetch the dog from the airport.
After splurging on real estate in Australia, American thoroughbreds and European designer fashions, China's rich see the Tibetan mastiffs as a new status symbol. China is now home to an estimated 825,000 millionaires, its most in modern history, and its luxury goods market is one of the fastest growing in the world. Among the must-haves for rich men in northeast China, the official Xinhua News Agency recently said, was a young beautiful wife, a Lamborghini and a Tibetan mastiff, "the bigger and more ferocious the better."