In February 2021, Tibetan Mastiff breeders Dan Nechemias and his wife Lois Claus received the phone call that no breeder wants to hear.
Waffle, a male puppy they sold to a new breeder in San Antonio, Texas three years ago, was one of several Tibetan Mastiffs seized in an animal neglect situation. The dog had lost nearly 50 pounds, and his feces and the urine-soaked coat was one big body mat. Fortunately, the giant dog’s AKCReunite microchip traced back to Nechemias and Claus.
“We microchip all puppies in our name,” says Nechemias. “If a new owner wants to add their name, we always stay on as a primary contact.”
How did this champion Tibetan Mastiff who exhibited at Westminster, the AKC National Championship, and qualified for Westminster 2021 wind up in this horrific situation?
Hiding in Plain Sight
“Lois and I keep asking what’s the takeaway,” says Nechemias. “We were never out of contact with the breeder, but you can always ask more questions.”
Waffle’s odyssey began after a woman who previously bred Rottweilers contacted the couple for a puppy. New to Tibetan Mastiffs, the breeder owned three of the same giant dogs from prominent Tibetan breeders and wanted to establish her breeding program.
“We met at the Woofstock show, saw her dogs and her handler, and went to dinner together,” remembers Nechemias. “The dogs were in good condition, and everything seemed normal. We never guessed anything was remiss.”
The couple sent Waffle to the breeder’s home in San Antonio, Texas, and kept in touch with her.
“We had the typical breeder to newcomer conversations to help her learn more about the breed so she could achieve success,” says Nechemias. “We assumed Waffle, GCH Dawa’s Batter Up, was well-cared for since he exhibited at the big shows and finished his championship with professional handler Brian Livingston.”
But when a TV newscast showed officers from the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services in San Antonio, Texas, removing Tibetan Mastiffs, Rottweilers, and a Great Dane from a small house, the clip went viral. That’s when Brittany LeAnn Suria, the owner’s Conformation handler, recognized her client and five of the TMs Suria had shown.
“I never visited my client’s house because she always brought the Tibetans to me at the dog shows,” says Suria. “Most clients do the same thing.”
Other than a bit of matting behind one of these TM’s ears, Suria remembers the dogs always coming to her in good condition.
“The woman hired several handlers to show her dogs, so money didn’t seem to be a problem,” says Suria. “A few years ago, one of her Tibetans developed a severe bacterial infection, and she spent $30,000 in veterinary bills for the dog’s recovery.”
Waffle’s Odyssey Begins
When Animal Care Services picked up the TMs, the owner and her husband relinquished all rights to the dogs, with no charges filed against them. The owner notified Suria and gave her the dogs’ microchip and breeders’ information.
“I believe she is a good person, but kept too many puppies and dogs to take care of and became overwhelmed,” says Suria. “Then she fell ill, and like some people, didn’t ask for help.”
Immediately, Suria reached out to San Antonio Animal Care Officer Kassi Bennett and offered to help rehome the TMs by tracing them to their breeders and co-owners. Bennett gave Suria permission to see the dogs.
Bennett also accepted her offer to help match the dogs with their show win photos, microchip numbers, and the woman’s records. Of the 36 dogs, Suria identified 14 and notified the dogs’ breeders and co-owners.
“When Brittany called and told us that Waffle was removed from deplorable conditions and picked up by officers at the Care Center, we felt shocked and sad,” says Nechemias. “My wife was angry, too, but we had faith in the recovery system and focused our energy on getting Waffle back.”
A Breeder’s Job
In 2002, the couple’s attraction to the breed’s history as guardians of the Himalayas, intelligence, independence, and strong will inspired them to choose a Tibetan Mastiff.
“This was our first show dog, and we didn’t plan on breeding, but the Tibetan is still a rare breed, and we recognized the need to help preserve it,” says Nechemias.
Showing and breeding the 140-pound dogs followed. At the same time, the couple committed to taking a dog back if it ever needed a home.
“No matter how great a home seems when the puppy is eight weeks old, it may not be the perfect place for the dog five years later,” says Nechemias. “The biggest lie breeders tell themselves is that they’re going to get every placement right, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Life is full of circumstances, and people change their minds.”
The Importance of a Microchip
The TMs spent a week at the Care Center until a judge ruled the dogs could return to their breeders. Over a Zoom meeting, Nechemias and Claus met with the county attorney and showed Waffle’s microchip and registration information.
“This is the perfect example of how microchips come in handy,” says Nechemias. “It’s the proof shelters need to reuniting a dog with its breeder or owner.”
Once the TMs were released, the real work came in restoring their health and rehoming them.
Tibetan Mastiff coats are double-coated, with a wooly undercoat and coarse guard hair. When brushed two to three times a week, the coat is low-maintenance, but if neglected, it tangles.
Suria took four TMs—Artemis, Diablo, Waffler, and Jester, plus the Great Dane and Rottweiler to her home until the breeders could arrange transportation to pick them up a week later.
Tibetan Rescue took 14 of the dogs, and another rescue pulled six.
Happily, none of the dogs were euthanized.
To detangle the TMs’ coats and restore them to reasonably good condition, it took Suria several days to brush, comb, and bathe the dogs multiple times. She clipped everyone’s nails, too.
Diablo also had a skin condition and an eye discharge requiring medication. Some of the dogs had respiratory issues, and Waffle had skin and ear irritation and urine-burned footpads.
“Grooming is restorative to the dogs, but the coat is too thick for clippers to penetrate, so you have to use a de-shedding tool and go slowly,” says Nechemias.
After an 1800-mile-trip from Texas to Oregon, six baths, 20 hours on the grooming table, and four de-shedding tools, Waffle returned to his birth home in the rolling hillsides and vineyards of the Willamette Valley, Oregon.
How did this normally moody breed react to his ordeal?
“Waffle is hanging out on the couch and brightening up,” says Nechemias. “Playing with toys, chewing on a bone, and going out for walks suits him fine.”