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Kachook in New York -- a long way from his native Afghanistan.
Kachook in New York -- a long way from his native Afghanistan.

Mastiffs on the Hashish Trail

How Kachook meandered into Tibetan Mastiff pedigrees

Stories about dogs are, in the end, stories about people. Behind every line in a pedigree, there are the unrecorded anecdotes and aspirations of the people who developed, supported and sustained the breed of their heart.  

If you go back far enough in American Tibetan Mastiff pedigrees, you’ll find Kachook – Beislers Kachook, to be exact. As his name suggests, the story of Kachook is the story of Jerry Beisler – music producer, show promoter, hashish smuggler, cannabis cultivator and compulsive world traveler.  

 

Kachook at one year old with Jerry Beisler. Photo: Sam D’AlisioKachook at one year old with Jerry Beisler. Photo: Sam D’Alisio

 

To say that Indiana-born Beisler embraced the counter culture of the 1970s would be the most serious of understatements. His 2012 book, The Bandit of Kabul: Counterculture Adventures Along the Hashish Trail and Beyond, is a dizzying travelogue that ricochets between exotic locales populated by troubadours, tribesmen and everyone in between. With charming nonchalance, Beisler goes from free-love skinny dipping in seaside Goa, India, to a Grateful Dead recording session in San Francisco to a speed-boat ride with a saffron-robed Lama bestowing a Tibetan blessing on Lake Tahoe. You never know who will drop into Beisler’s narrative: Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, movie star Dennis Hopper and a revolving door of ex-pats – most identified by their geographic origins, like Dutch Bob and Montreal Michael – who are involved in the then legal, but oftentimes shadowy world of smuggling hashish from central Asia to Amsterdam.  

In Kathmandu, Beisler meets German Ted and his dog, “the first Afghan mastiff that I had ever seen, an incredibly fantastic specimen of the canine world,” Beisler writes. “I approached Ted and found out that he had acquired the dog in Afghanistan, where the breed was rare and had, for centuries, been guard dogs for the caravans. I determined then that I would, some day, have one of those proud, majestic beasts.”

 

Kachook, five months old. Source: The Bandit of Kabul

Kachook, five months old. Source: The Bandit of Kabul

 

It wasn’t long before Beisler found himself in Afghanistan, renting a four-acre estate enclosed by 24-foot-high, three-foot-wide mud walls on the far edge of Kabul. (To give you a sense of the medievalism of it all, among the staff was a eunuch housekeeper.) An avid rider, Beisler bought a horse bred for buzkashi, a sort of Afghani version of polo in which the “ball” is a headless, hoofless goat or calf. “I found a beautiful white stallion,” he writes, “and, against the Afghani tradition of naming a horse after its color, I named this one ‘Sazz’ – or music – for his tremendously strong yet smooth gait.” For his wife Rebecca, Beisler purchased a small horse named Red Flame, though local tribesmen were so incensed at seeing a woman riding that she was sometimes pelted with rocks and bottles – and threatened with worse.  

Reuniting with German Ted in Afghanistan, Beisler enlisted him in a search for his Afghan puppy. They journeyed to Bamiyan, 150 miles to the northwest, and found an 8-week-old puppy that a local Wali, or magistrate, had just purchased the night before to become a sak-jungee, or fighting dog.  

“Where Kachook was actually born is unknown. He was stolen, and had spent the previous two weeks tied to a caravan cart in a walk-for-your-life-or-death situation,” Beisler explains in his book. “There were some histrionic Afghan-style negotiations involved. German Ted, invoking local custom, made the point that it was very, very good luck for the Wali to make a profit so quickly.”  

The $20 deal was struck, and Beisler returned home with the gold-eyed puppy, whose tail had been docked to the size of a man’s first and the ears almost entirely cropped. His name meant “small dog,” which of course was tongue in cheek: Beisler says he grew to be 34 inches at the shoulder and 145 pounds.  

Close-up of Kachook. Photo: Sam D’AlisioClose-up of Kachook. Photo: Sam D’Alisio

 

While his terrified house staff saw such dogs as “mindless, fierce attack beasts,” Beisler says he noticed Kachook’s “incredible intelligence” right off the bat, including his “distinctive command of language”: Possessing “binocular vision,” the dog had separate barks that denoted “strangers coming,” “friends coming,” “strangers closer” and “weapons.”  

“He soon amazed all of our Afghan staff when he quickly learned to obey commands,” Beisler continues. “His appearance at my whistle and his obedience to commands had the same effect on our Afghan household as if a circus tiger had walked in and leaped through a ring of fire.”  

Beisler notes that he and Rebecca worked hard to help “gentle” Kachook’s fierce nature whenever a teachable moment presented itself. But the Afghan dog’s strong protective instinct could not be snuffed out – and Beisler was soon thankful for its resilience.  

In addition to the estate in Kabul, Beisler rented a house in the hills above the city. Lush with fruit trees, and dotted with the weekend villas of the aristocracy, Paghman, as the area is called, provided a respite from the summer heat. Beisler relocated the horses to the Paghman house, keeping several biddable ones for visitors to ride.  

When a United Nations attaché who proclaimed herself to be a good horsewoman visited the couple at their Paghman house, her inept riding delayed them well past dark. Though Beisler wanted to stay the night, she insisted on returning to Kabul that evening, for an event that was “pressing beyond compare.” Heading to the town square, Beisler hired an unfamiliar driver for the descent to Kabul.  

Refusing the nervous driver’s demands that five-month-old Kachook go in the trunk, Beisler reassured him the dog was just a puppy, and the group departed.  

“At the bottom of the hill on the road from Paghman to Kabul, there is a no-man’s land for about five miles before you hit the outskirts of town,” Beisler recounts in his book. “Suddenly there was some talk of gas or some car problem. The driver made a sharp right and bumped off the highway for a hundred yards or so, winding up in an encampment populated by what I can only describe as a band of nomads and desperadoes.”  

“They are rich and no one knows they are here,” the driver said to the assembled outlaws. “We can kill them and rob them.”  

The three Americans were forced out of the car and Beisler was tackled to the ground. In an instant, Kachook flung himself from the open backseat window, issuing “the most fearsome snarl I have ever heard coming from any animal,” Beisler writes.  

“It got everyone’s attention when he latched on the arm of the man nearest to where he landed, almost tearing it off,” he continues. “They backed off for a second. The driver screamed, ‘He’s just a puppy!’ and they began to move in again, when Kachook nailed another of the thieves by the leg, nearly breaking his ankle.”  

Beisler’s memoir of his time on the “Hashish Trail” includes several Kachook anecdotes.

 

In the confusion, Beisler unsheathed the Bowie knife he always carried, grabbed Kachook by the collar, and began backing away, the two women behind him, toward the highway. The marauders followed, arguing among themselves about what to do next, and trying to encircle the retreating Americans.  

Providentially, a truck driver who had pulled over to read a map let the trio and their dog clamber into his cab, as the would-be murderers pounded on the sides of the truck. And as they lurched toward Kabul, “Rebecca and I swore to Kachook that we would love and protect him for the rest of his life, for saving ours,” Beisler writes.  

The opportunity for a payback arrived in 1973, when the Afghan king was deposed in a coup by his cousin. Beisler was having a dinner party, with a guest playing the balalaika, when the household heard commotion outside, and young men wearing red scarves around their necks began scaling the walls of the compound.  

When Beisler and his guests resisted demands to turn over their passports, one of the young men gnawed the pinky off Beisler’s cook, and handed it to one of the officers.  

“The officer held up the bloody stump, looked me in the eye and said, ‘I want the passports – NOW,’” writes Beisler, who decided to comply. “We were given 72 hours to get out of the country, and our exodus from Afghanistan began.”

Kachook left Afghanistan with Rebecca’s visiting 19-year-old brother, Evan, accompanied by his rabies certificate from the Royal Afghan Veterinary Clinic. Arriving in London, Kachook was quarantined for two nights – all the while relieving himself in what Beisler calls “inspiring places” around the airport. “Evan was allowed to take Kachook for walks, but he was not allowed to leave the grounds, so what’s a dog to do?” Beisler writes. “Eventually the customs officials declared they were America’s problem and sent them on to New York.”  

Kachook rejoined his master in the United States, eventually settling down at the ranch Beisler purchased in the foothills of northern California, with a 35-foot waterfall, three swimming holes and, of course, bounteous marijuana crops. A consummate watch dog, “Kachook never left the vicinity of the house when no one was at home,” Beisler says, adding that the dog had an uncanny knack for recognizing and accepting blood relatives without being introduced, and was exceedingly tolerant of small children. Beisler acquired a female dog named Oman Neeka, brought from tribal Pakistan by some fellow “Asia refugees”; she became Kachook’s “mate,” producing two litters with him.

 

Kachook with Steve Nash in Middletown, New York, in 1976.

Kachook with Steve Nash in Middletown, New York, in 1976.

 

By now, you’ve likely concluded – based on his cropped ears and docked tail, head and body structure, and the details, however sketchy, of his provenance – that Kachook most probably was not a purebred Tibetan Mastiff. More likely, he was a Central Asian Shepherd Dog, or a regional variant called the Afghan Kuchi (also spelled Coochi or Koochee), bred by the nomadic Kuchi people.  

Kachook’s intersection with the Tibetan Mastiff breeding world happened, as most significant things in Beisler’s life did, by total serendipity. Beisler remembers getting his son’s hair cut in San Francisco when he leafed through a copy of Dog World magazine and noticed an ad with a photograph of a Tibetan Mastiff.  

Beisler had had plenty of experience with Tibetan Mastiffs abroad, having researched the breed in some of Asia’s finest libraries and, of course, observing the dogs in their native lands. He saw his first Tibetan Mastiff – a black dog who stood well over 30 inches and weighed some 130 pounds – in a small Nepali village in 1970. “Majestic, rigid and unflinching, he stood, surrounded by half-score of snarling, barking street curs,” he remembered in an essay. “Eventually, without a sound or a move, he dismissed the pack,” simply by raising his hackles. In 1973, Beisler returned stateside with a three-month-old Tibetan Mastiff bitch named “Baulu,” which means “bear” in both Tibetan and Nepali, though he placed her and she never made it into Tibetan Mastiff pedigrees. Three years later, Beisler trekked to the Himalayas’ third-highest mountain, Ganesh Himal, in the company of an Englishman who brought chocolate, scotch and his Tibetan Mastiff, Nicky, in tow.  

 

Tibetan Mastiff in front of Buddhist monastery. Note the primitive lean-to for shelter.

Tibetan Mastiff in front of Buddhist monastery. Note the primitive lean-to for shelter.

 

David Forbes and his Tibetan Mastiff, Nicky, who accompanied Beisler on a trek in the Himalayas.

Beisler with “Baulu,” a Tibetan Mastiff bitch he brought to the United States.

 

David Forbes and his Tibetan Mastiff, Nicky, who accompanied Beisler on a trek in the Himalayas.    

 

And of course Beisler was aware of hippie hash smugglers who shipped the herbe dangereuse in false-bottomed wooden crates, their ferocious Tibetan Mastiff occupants proving an ample deterrent to U.S. customs agents.  

The man who had placed that Dog World ad, Steve Nash of Middletown, New York, knew all about those canine drug mules, too: The foundation stock of the Ausables Kennel, which he founded with his then-wife Linda, came by chance from dogs that had been brought to the East Coast by hashish smugglers, who then had no further use or care for them.  

Nash – who ironically began breeding Central Asian Shepherd Dogs a little more than a decade ago – had never heard of that breed when Beisler called and described Kachook to him. A frequent visitor to the American Kennel Club library in Manhattan, “I found some copies of The Hutchinson Encyclopedia there that had some dogs represented as Tibetan Mastiffs that had very much the breed type that Kachook had,” Nash says. “It wasn’t far fetched to think that was another variety from the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, which could be considered the foothills of the Himalayan range.”  

Rebecca flew with Kachook out to New York, and he was bred to two of the Nashes’ bitches, Ausables Astra and Ausables Abby. The sisters were out of the famous “A litter” between I Ching and Chang Du (who themselves had no pedigree beyond their respective parents) that essentially created the foundation for Tibetan Mastiffs in America.  

Ausables Astra (above) was bred to Kachook to produce a litter of four males, one of which was Ausables Honey Bear (below).

 

The Kachook breedings resulted in a total of eight puppies whelped in late 1976. The litter out of Ausables Astra contained four males, one of which, Ausables Honey Bear, continues on in some Tibetan Mastiff pedigrees. For her part, Ausables Abby produced four females, the standout of which was Ausables Black Princess, who through her successful offspring had the most impact on the breed.  

“He added quite a lot of size and bone to the puppies, and did add a lot of quality to the line at that time,” Nash says of Kachook, who was registered with the American Kennel Club with a birthdate of February 1, 1972. “Of course I lost some Tibetan Mastiff breed type, but I went right back in my Ausables line to get type back.”  

 

 
Kachook baying a mountain lion at twilight. Photo: Tom Ness
 
 
As for Kachook, he returned home to Beisler’s California ranch, where he made friends with a hedgehog in the garden, and kept in touch with his guarding roots by running off deer poachers.  
 
“His dog’s life’s highlight was likely when on a twilight hike in the canyon we came upon a mountain lion,” Beisler muses in his book. “Without hesitation, Kachook charged and treed the big cat. He did not fare so well on a chance encounter with a bear, however, as the big beast rolled Kachook with one swat of its mighty paw and then raked the dog’s underbelly with sharp claws. Kachook was lucky to survive and fully recover.”  
 
Today, Kachook is a single line of type buried so far in pedigrees that most Tibetan Mastiff fanciers have no idea who – or what – he was. But for Beisler, he’s not gone.  
 
“He comes to my dreams, about once a month,” says Beisler, who now lives in Berkeley, California. “I just loved him, and I can’t begin to tell you how hard I worked to make him a sweet, gentle dog.”  
 
Every once in a while, during those nocturnal visits, Beisler questions himself, wondering if he could have taken better care of his dog, maybe fed him a more expensive dog food. Then he remembers that Kachook lived to the ripe old age of 13 – inordinately long for a dog of any breed, much less one that had been destined to live a life of dusty deprivation, alternating between being tethered on a chain and fought for sport, encircled by throngs of screaming tribesmen.  
 
“That’s when I wake up,” Beisler concludes, “and I feel good.”   
 

 

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