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Paging Dr. Bill

Dr. William Newman is the Mastiff's biggest booster, inside the ring and out

Dr. William R. Newman of Bedford, Pennsylvania, doesn’t have much white space left on his resume.

He’s a board-certified radiologist who built a successful practice at a network of Maryland hospitals. At one point, he ran a hospital, too. He sits on the AKC board of directors, and served as a director and millennium founder of the AKC Canine Health Foundation. He judges 17 breeds, and will adjudicate his breed’s national for the second time next year. He’s co-bred a triple national-specialty winner and owned top-winning dogs across multiple breeds. The former mayor of his quaint Victorian town, he is active in state politics, hosting governors and senators. And he appreciates the finer things in life, from his immaculately restored 1961 Rolls-Royce to his exacting dinner-party place settings, right down to the sterling fish forks.

But in the end, Newman’s greatest accomplishment may simply be that he loved Mastiffs.


The Mastiff today arguably has no bigger a booster than Dr. William Newman, or Dr. Bill to his friends.


“I am a Mastiff person. We are the Molosser dog,” says Newman, incorporating the breed into his very pronouns. Such is his passion for the Mastiff that when he joined the AKC board in 1993, George Earl’s 1870 study of a British Mastiff, Barry of Lyme Hall, was moved to the conference room on Madison Avenue in his honor. “We go back a long way – we know our dogs were in England in the 12th Century. From us have come many breeds. We deserve recognition.”

To understand “Dr. Bill,” as his friends and fellow Mastiff fanciers call him, you need only watch him in action at a Mastiff Club of America national specialty, where every few feet someone catches his sleeve or pulls him aside in conversation. But no matter what the humans demand, once Newman meets a Mastiff, there is simply nothing else in the universe.


Bill Newman and fawn friends (plus one brindle), 1970s.


Newman lowers his head for a chat, and soon he is draped in 200 pounds of fawn or apricot or brindle adulation. Massive paws drape his shoulders. A tongue the size of a pastrami coats the side of his face. But Newman just laughs, pulls out a handkerchief and begins to mop. He is, after all a Mastiff man. What is a little drool between friends?

“If you love something, you love it with all its faults,” he says. “The correct head structure, the jowls of the Mastiff, produce drool. If you want perfection, die and go to heaven.”

Though he lost any trace of a boroughbred accent decades ago, Newman grew up in Rosedale, Queens, a suburban community at the southeastern edges of New York City. His Irish Catholic roots are indelible, from his fond remembrances of his mother (her gleaming mahogany dining-room set graces his well-appointed home today) to the names he chose for his dogs (a breeding bitch of his, Ch. Renrock’s Mary Magdalene, lived with a priest named Father Francis) to his quick sense of humor. (His judge’s prayer? “Hail Mary, full of grace, send me a dog I can place.”)

But Newman never saw a Mastiff amid the dormered brick houses and marshlands of Rosedale. He met his first in the spring of 1960, while visiting a fellow doctor and medical corpsman in Texas. Newman was sitting in the living room of the tiny three-bedroom ranch when a huge dog emerged from the narrow hallway to appraise him.

“He looked at me as if to say, ‘You’re nobody.’ And then he walked back to the bedroom without a word – no bark, no growl,” Newman remembers. “That’s such a Mastiff.”


Newman with rescue Mastiffs Billy and Dee Dee. Photo: Denise Flaim


Newman was smitten with the breed’s dignity and nobility. But after his military service, he began training in radiology at Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn. He got a place in tony Brooklyn Heights, across the street from Truman Capote, whose occasional visits from Jackie Kennedy stopped traffic on the block. A hectic schedule and tight quarters made it no place for a Mastiff.

After his residency, Newman joined a radiology practice in rural Cumberland, Md. This was his chance. “I read every book,” he says, adding that he wanted the best-quality dog he could buy. “I wanted a Mastiff that looked like a Mastiff.” Newman contacted the parent club, and got the phone number of Marie Moore of the famed Moorleigh Kennels in The Plains, Va., but she wouldn’t return his call.

In 1968, Newman drove his new apple-green Cadillac convertible up the hillside of Patty Brill’s Peach Farm in New Rock, Del. (Brill was Moore’s nemesis, and a prolific Mastiff breeder.) He left with the pick of the litter, a male he named Renrock’s Brian O’Dare, perched on the white-leather seat beside him.

Newman finished “Brian” (Peach Farm Raynor x Peach Farm Peaches) in eight shows, and had a specially carpeted seat built for him so he could ride comfortably in the back of the Cadillac with the top down. The bug had officially bitten.


Newman showing his first Mastiff, Ch. Renrock’s Brian O’Dare, who was Peach Farm breeding.


Soon, Brill called to ask Newman to join the Mastiff Club of America, and to sit on its board. In the 40-odd years since, he’s held every office but treasurer, and has been the club’s AKC delegate for almost two decades. “We have so many new people in Mastiffs now, but then it was a very tiny club, no more than 30 or 40 people,” he remembers. Organizing a national specialty involved following these offhand instructions from Brill: “Go find a judge and buy some silver trophies.”

“Patty genuinely loved the dogs,” says Newman. But the breeding program at Peach Farm was somewhat scattershot. “There were dogs everywhere, even in the tennis court,” he remembers. “I don’t even know if she kept bitches confined.” (She did tell him, though, that the small bitches with the black marks on their tails threw the best puppies.) In later years, Brill bemoaned that while she had repeated the breeding that had produced Brian, she could never get the same dog. Newman wonders wryly if that’s because she wasn’t using the right stud dog.


Ch. Reveille’s Big Thunder, sired by Newman’s stud dog and co-bred with Damara Bolte, won the Mastiff Club of America National Specialty three times.

Ch. Reveille’s Big Thunder, sired by Newman’s stud dog and co-bred with Damara Bolte, won the Mastiff Club of America National Specialty three times.


Ch. Reveille Renrock’s Sean O’Dare, a litter brother to Ch. Reveille’s Big Thunder.

Ch. Reveille Renrock’s Sean O’Dare, a litter brother to Ch. Reveille’s Big Thunder.


As for male producers, Brian turned out to be quite a successful one. Bred to Ch. Reveille’s Tribute, a bitch handled and owned by Damara Bolte, he produced Ch. Reveille’s Big Thunder. A three-time national-specialty winner, “Thunder” was bred by Bolte and Newman. And that was the beginning of a decades-long friendship with Bolte, who, though world-known for her Reveille Basenjis, also bred high-quality Mastiffs under that banner.

To augment his Renrock breeding program, Newman acquired a bitch from the third American doyenne of Mastiffs of that period, Eve Olsen Fisher of Willowledge. He gave the bitch a good Irish name, but it didn’t help. “Willowledge’s Mary Kathryn had a kinked tail, cowhocks, ears like a donkey and a temperament like a rattlesnake,” says Newman matter-of-factly. “I got two points on her.”


Ch. Renrock’s Brendan O’Dare was a Sean son, and a favorite brindle who Newman remembers for his exceptional soundness.


Ch. Renrock’s Mary Magdalene, who, fittingly, lived with a priest.


The first “Danny” that Newman owned was Ch. Renrock’s Danny O’Dare, by Ch. Reveille’s Big Thunder out of Ch. Renrock’s Mary Magdalene.


Newman bought another bitch, the aforementioned “Mary Magdalene,” on the side of the road for $200. Like her namesake, she had some sins to atone for, such as a pointy nose and less substance than Newman would have wanted. “But she had hellish body, and she could move,” he says. Bred to Thunder, Mary produced Ch. Renrock’s Mariah O’Dare, a bitch who benefitted from her mother’s soundness and father’s strong type: “Mariah” finished at 17 months old, with three majors.

In the ring, Newman calls himself a “zealot” on soundness. “I want Mastiffs that can jump that three-foot fence. You have to have an angle in front, an angle in back and a topline in between – that makes a motion machine,” he says. When he judges, “some people in Mastiffs bring me a gorgeous head, a dog that’s big and has bone, but the topline is down, the back end is out, and the front end is pointing every which way. A Mastiff that can’t cross the room, or has to sit down halfway across … what good is he?”

Because size can never come at the expense of soundness, Newman says he often finds himself putting up more moderately sized dogs. “It’s easier to breed a 32-inch, 200-pound dog who’s sound than a 34-inch, 240-pound dog,” he says.


Nothing but the best for Dee Dee, who wears this Mastiff-adorned lead on walks. Photo: Denise Flaim


Newman continued breeding through the next two decades, housing four to six dogs at a time and co-owning the rest. “I rarely sold dogs,” he says, preferring instead to give them to friends and family, where he could have access to them if needed.

But by the time the 1990s arrived, Newman was ready for the next chapter of his life with Mastiffs: judging them.

In 1991, he got his first assignment: Sweepstakes at the Mastiff Club of America national specialty in Sacramento, Calif. A year later, he judged the national itself. Like many clubs, the MCOA requires that a judge take a 10-year hiatus before being eligible for the national again, and, as soon as his decade was up, Newman was voted back in: Next year, he will judge the Mastiff national for the second, and, he says, the last time.


Newman co-owned Ch. Whipperinn’s Virgil J, the top-winning English Foxhound in the history of the breed.


Today, Newman judges 16 breeds in the Working Group, as well as English Foxhounds. That sole Hound is nod to Ch. Whipperinn’s Virgil J, who won 200 Groups in his career and retired in 2001. Along with “Virgil,” Newman also co-owned “Tyler,” Ch. Nanuke’s Take No Prisoners, the Alaskan Malamute who won the Working Group at Westminster in 1998.

Both are the biggest-winning dogs ever in their respective breeds, but Newman doesn’t like the word “backer.” He thinks “sponsor” is nicer. “You helping the fancy recognize a gorgeous dog that wouldn’t otherwise be seen,” he explains.

Though Newman has dabbled in those other breeds, it is Mastiffs that have settled in his heart and refused to budge. When he built his new home more than a decade ago, he designed it expressly with Mastiffs in mind. His dogs have their own suite of rooms on the high-ceilinged lower level, complete with their own kitchen, big-screen TV and guest room for the pet sitter.

And if there was one Mastiff who came near to breaking Newman’s heart, it was “Danny,” Ch. Renrock Danny Boy O’Nanjay (Nanjay’s Black Star In My Crown x Running Bear’s Rouge Of Nanjay), bred by Nancy and Levi Ogden. Whelped in 1997, he was Newman’s soulmate. Three years after his death, his empty crate still stands in the dog room, his ashes and bereavement cards tucked inside.

Before Danny embarked on a stud-dog career, Newman discovered that he was positive for cysturnia, a heritable disorder in which the kidneys cannot correctly process cystine, a basic amino acid. Rather than hide the fact, Newman neutered his dog and made him a literal poster boy for the genetic disease: Flyers bearing Danny’s image urge breeders to test for cysturnia, and to support research to find a genetic marker.



“Danny,” Ch. Renrock Danny Boy O’Nanjay, was Newman’s last champion, and his heart dog.


Another shot of “Danny” as a veteran. When Newman bought his first Mastiff from Patty Brill in the late 1960s, there was an apricot male he would not consider because all he wanted was a fawn. “Patty said when I got to know the breed better – minor lecture – I would learn to appreciate the color,” he says, “and I sure did.”


Cysturnia is just one of the causes Newman has championed in the Mastiff world. He is a staunch proponent of parentage by DNA, and through his efforts any Mastiff entered in an MCOA national specialty must be DNA profiled. He advocated for – and saw passed – a code of ethics that parent-club members must sign and follow to maintain their membership. And he mounted a public-information campaign against crossbreeding to create “designer Mastiffs” such as the so-called American Mastiff, which is an Anatolian Shepherd cross.

Above all, Newman wishes owners and breeders would remember and honor the tremendous dedication and loyalty of the breed. “When a Mastiff is yours, he is yours until you die,” he says. And, since he plans on having Danny’s ashes buried with him when he goes, he’s yours for far longer than that.


A wood painting of Ch. Renrock’s Brian O’Dare and Willowledge’s Mary Kathryn. Photo: Denise Flaim

A wood painting of Ch. Renrock’s Brian O’Dare and Willowledge’s Mary Kathryn. Photo: Denise Flaim


Bill Newman is nothing if not opinionated, and he has lots of opinions on all things Mastiff. He never feeds chicken, because of the meat’s high cystine content. He’s avoided bloat for the last 40 years, he says, because he does not permit any exercise for one to two hours after eating. “No water with dinner,” he continues. “And never feed anything that isn’t all natural – no soy, no grain.”

Growing Mastiffs should be lean, he continues. “Marie Moore had a weight chart – I’ll give the old girl her due – but so do I,” he says. “It’s 100 pounds at six months, 150 pounds at 12 months. Judges will say, ‘That’s not big enough,’ but Mastiffs are not mature until they are three or four years old. You don’t want to put a lot of weight on their growing skeletons. They should be lithe, like a swimmer.”

Rearing giant dogs like Mastiffs may be a challenge, but it’s a piece of cake compared to the current issues Newman wrestles with on the AKC board of directors. The sport is facing a paradigm shift in the way society perceives purebred dogs – and an aging fancy that is reluctant to change or compromise.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, we went to Levittown and got Oldsmobile 98s and an AKC purebred dog,” he says. “In 2011, we’re rescuing dogs from shelters and soccer moms are too busy to spend the whole day at a dog show.” Society and the way we live have changed dramatically, but the AKC business model has not.


As you can tell from the colors and the clothing, it was the 1970s, but this moment with Peach Farm Moira is timeless.


“The dog sport has been so driven by registrations, but today we’re not producing enough dogs or registering enough of them,” Newman continues. Either the fancy becomes more inclusive, with an eye toward drawing in the public and other dogs that are not necessarily purebred, or it circles the wagons, works within its ever-shrinking boundaries, and essentially becomes a closed society that caters to only an elitist sliver of dogfolk.

“It’s a sport – we have to make it fun. But most of our people in the dog game are ego driven,” Newman says. “Me, I love the dogs. I think they’re terrific.”

Today, Newman still shares his life with Mastiffs – two of them. Though they are light years away from the top winners that characterized his start in the breed, they are just as doted on.

Newman doesn’t know how old Billy and Dee Dee are. The best guess is 6 and 7, respectively, though he suspects they are older. Or perhaps their hard life before arriving at Renrock took its toll. Newman acquired the pair through rescue as a specials-needs case: Intensely bonded, they could not be separated.

Billy is blind, his clouded eyes the result of progressive retinal atrophy, or PRA. “He has a tail like a dinosaur, his hair’s too long, and he looks like Mr. Magoo,” says Newman. “All he wants to do is lie on my leg. I am his seeing-eye man.”

Billy’s companion, Dee Dee, never saw a veterinarian before rescue took her in. She had a long-running infection on her back that Newman’s daily ministrations have almost cleared up. She is the consummate Mastiff bitch, looking at Newman with a mix of amusement, disdain and affection.


This airbrushed Mastiff bears Newman’s kennel name, Renrock. Photo: Denise Flaim


It’s this supernatural sense of self that captivates Newman. Even in the ring, when an exhibit won’t cooperate, he sees it simply as evidence of depth of character.

“They’ll clamp their jowls shut, and they won’t let you in their mouths to check their bites,” he explains cheerily. “I just put my finger in their mouths, and rub back and forth like a toothbrush, so I can feel what I need to feel.”

Beneath their stoic glances and ponderous pauses, he knows the dogs are laughing – at their good fortune at finding such a compliant human to do their bidding, to keep them in the manner to which their kind should always be accustomed.

Mastiffs are the most beautiful breed of dog in the world, Newman thinks, and no one will persuade him otherwise. “What upsets me, when they lie on me and enfold me, is how people can use and abuse them for their financial gain, not knowing how loving, caring and sensitive they are,” he says. “When you are blessed with having the very best, how can you not feel the love and responsibility of protecting them and their offspring? In some respects, I feel as if I am honor bound to teach others the beauty of such a magnificent animal – and the responsibility we have to protect and nurture it.”



Horsing around with Billy and Dee Dee. Photo: Denise Flaim


But as he watches his fellow fanciers, he worries that he’s failed in his purpose. He’s not sure they’re focusing on ethics, or health testing, or taking responsibility for all the puppies they bring into the world. Or if they really understand how special the breed is, how magical it is that the majestic manor dog of old has survived the centuries to grace our subdivisions and split levels.

Shortly before her death, Newman says Patty Brill of Peach Farm told him, “Bill, when I am gone, please help save my dogs.” She wasn’t just talking about her breeding stock atop that Delaware hill, but, in a larger sense, the breed they both cherished, a protector who in this modern age needs protecting himself.

Today, at well beyond retirement age, Newman finds himself thinking the same thought. “I worry what will happen when I am gone,” he says. Maybe, he hopes, this story will “motivate some other zealot to act as I have for 50 years to protect, preserve and love my dogs.”

And by “my dogs” … he means them all.