An elderly man, reading a book in his brown leather chair next to the fireplace, a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
That is how I found Tobin Jackson
most of the time when entering his house in Mexico to start another of our long conversations. It’s a picture that will always remain in my memory.
I was 25 years old in August 1995, when I met Tobin Jackson in Queretaro City, Mexico, while visiting a local kennel.
The author with Tobin Jackson.
I have been a dog enthusiast since I was a little boy, and three years before, I bought my first American dog magazine and decided I was going to get my first “purebred, show quality dog.” In that magazine, I was very interested in two advertisements from the same kennel. The Presa Canario
and the Mastiff were two breeds I liked the most, but I thought a Mastiff was going to be a lot for me. The picture of Deer Run Enrico, the Presa Canario, really got me. I went to that local kennel hoping I could get a decent puppy for
The owner was very kind, showing me all the runs. He was quite impressed I could name all the breeds he had there – Shar-Pei, Pitbull, Dogue de Bordeaux, among others. At that kennel, I saw Mastiffs for the first time in my life. Finally, we got to the Presa Canario pen, and I just couldn´t believe it when I saw Deer Run Enrico right in front of me.
The kennel owner introduced me to his new partner – Tobin Jackson. The only words I heard from him were “Si … si” and “Bueno … bueno.” (“Yes, yes” … “Good, good.”)
I knew then I wanted to wait for a Presa puppy, and I got even more interested in dogs. A month after that kennel visit, I was standing at the Mastiff ring at the Mexican Dog Federation show when I found myself next to Tobin Jackson. Years later, he told me that he approached me there because no one could speak English and he was getting very bored. I had attended a bilingual grammar school, but most of my pronunciation was corrected by Tobin in the five years I lived with him. Our deal was that I had to teach him Spanish, and he had to correct my English. I was probably a lousy teacher, because “si,” “bueno” and other 50 Spanish words were all he could speak.
Tobin Jackson showing British import Glynpedr Tizer, a son of the famous Hollesley Medicine Man.
In the ring, Groppetti Quail Hill’s Bubba (Deer Run Lido Genghis Cohen x Groppetti Limon Pudding, but not owned by Tobin), the first Best in Show Mastiff in Mexico, was being judged. Tobin started explaining some things to me as he pointed at Bubba, words like “topline” and “gait” and “drive,” but honestly those concepts were too much for me at the time. So I asked him to change the subject, and he did. That was the beginning of a great friendship that lasted 13 years, until his death on Dec. 5,, 2008, one I will treasure deeply my entire life.
After that show, back in Queretaro, Tobin’s visits to my house became more frequent. My wife and our two daughters enjoyed his company, too, and eventually I introduced him to my parents, who hosted a nice dinner at their house. Things were not the way Tobin expected them to be at the kennel in Queretaro where he was living, so my father offered to let him move to one of three country houses he owned on an acre-plus property in a little town called Canalejas, between Queretaro City and Mexico City, where he could also keep his dogs.
We all thought it was a great idea. My father had a business in Canalejas, where he stayed four or five days a week, and he offered me a job so I could move there, too. Because Tobin had noticed my interest in dogs, we arranged a co-ownership where I would be responsible for the entire kennel under Tobin’s guidance.
Before moving to Canalejas, Tobin took a four-week break, driving all the way to Guatemala. During his trip, Tobin left all his important items at my house, including personal papers like birth certificates and passport copies, emergency phone numbers and also the Deer Run history – books, newsletters, pedigrees, ribbons, trophies and pictures, which I still have. I asked if I could look through them while he was on his trip. Only then I did I realize who Tobin Jackson was in the Mastiff world.
One day in November 1995, we all moved, with three pregnant bitches – two Mastiffs and a Dogue de Bordeaux. After reading some of Tobin’s North & East Mastiff Fanciers newsletters and his copy of The Mastiff and Bullmastiff Handbook by the late Douglas B. Oliff while he was away – compounded with the experience I had the night we first arrived in Canalejas – I began to understand how Tobin Jackson and his Deer Run Kennels became such an important chapter in Mastiff history.
On our first night in Canalejas, it took us some time to settle the pregnant bitches in. Several trips to the hardware and drug stores were made. I just barely had a couple hours of sleep, when around 4 a.m., Tobin was knocking at my door. “It is time,” he said. One of the Mastiff bitches was whelping.
A day doesn’t pass when I don’t think about that night: Tobin assisting the bitch and encouraging me to repeat the same steps he did, injecting antibiotics and oxytocin, pulling out the puppies either with fingers or forceps if necessary, with a precise grip in order not to harm the puppies but hard enough to set them free, tearing their sacks with our bare hands, rubbing them with paper towels, blowing into their mouths, checking the bitch’s milk for any sign of mastitis …
What happened that night, the salty taste and smell of the placentas, is still with me. In spite of the cold winter, Tobin was sweating as he pulled out and rubbed the newborns. Such dedication at his age, in his 70s, was truly remarkable.
When we both moved to Canalejas, it was like entering to a new, empty world. The search for companionship made us best friends and confidantes with the passage of time. We told each other about, listened to and witnessed the good and the bad in each other.
Jackson (back row, first from left) returned from World War II as a well-decorated veteran, having flown missions as a bombadier.
Jerome Edward Jackson was born in Methuen, Mass., on Dec. 15, 1923. He graduated from Methuen High School and was attending Lowell Textile School when he joined the United States Air Force on April 28, 1943, at 19 years old. He served his country as a bombardier in a B-17 heavy bomber (Flying Fortress), flying 24 missions over enemy territory – hit nine times, with five forced landings and two crashes.
Outside Tobin’s window at his house in Canalejas, sometimes one could hear his distress as he slept. He told me lots of stories about World War II. So I could better understand his nightmares, we rented “Memphis Belle.” I won’t say he had the worst experience that any human can have during wartime, but he certainly was not on a field trip. His obituary said that miraculously all his crew members survived, but Tobin had two different crews; the last one was shot down in the next mission after Tobin left them with their new bombardier. They all died.
As I mentioned, before Tobin joined the Air Force, he was attending a textile school. His father, Walter Jackson, ran a textile mill, but when Tobin got back home after the war, the textile industry had already started moving away from Methuen, so what he thought was going to be his future, wasn’t anymore.
In the 1950s, before he was involved in dogs, Tobin Jackson had an active modeling career.
After many other experiences, Tobin was employed in advertising as a model. That is when he changed his name from Jerome E. Jackson to Tobin Jackson. Tobin was his mother’s maiden name. He invested his savings from that time in what was to become his occupation for the next 40 years.
Tobin Jackson became a business partner with Donald Deke Vaundeall Gibbs (Zeek Gibbs), running a pet shop in New York City. Soon after they acquired an 11-acre property in Frenchtown, N.J. The first thing they noticed were the many trails that deer had made all over the place, and that is how the name Deer Run evolved.
Zeek Gibbs, Jackson's partner in the Deer Run kennel.
Jackson's first breed was the Affenpinscher.
Tobin used to like Affenpinschers very much: He told me he started to succeed at dog shows with his Affens because had the idea to groom them for the first time. While he was running rare-breed dog shows, he thought about creating a new breed called the “Giant Griffon”; he wanted it to be the ultimate guard, a big hairy dog with a fierce monkey face. He went so far as to breed an Affenpinscher to a Bouvier des Flandres female, but she never got pregnant, and soon he lost interest. Years later, I found out that Tobin and Zeek had written a book, How to Raise and Train an Affenpinscher.
I believe Tobin had a huge Mastiff-like dog in his childhood, and perhaps that is why he got interested in the breed.
Hyacinth Mellish of Heatherbelle Kennels and Patty Brill of Peach Farm were the first ones to mentor him. Even though Deer Run Kennels started in 1959, I have not found any record of a Deer Run Mastiff prior to 1968. However, in one of Tobin’s articles he states his first encounter with Mrs. Mellish was in 1958, and by the late ’60s he had already had some success with his own Deer Run Mastiffs.
An early Deer Run pedigree, from 1972, Deer Run Florister Meg.
In our conversations, his remembrances were not in chronological order. There were no dates – only events, places, names and dogs were mentioned. According to what I have seen in all the pedigrees and pictures Tobin left me, Heatherbelle Sue’s Sally, Heatherbelle Pricilla and Deer Run Jupiter can be seen as Tobin’s foundation stock. Based on their registration dates, early dogs like Deer Run Florister Bruce, Deer Run Horrendous, Deer Run Wellington and Deer Run Noah Massalane came later.
Deer Run Beguine, born in 1972 (Deer Run Florister Bruce x Deer Run Horrendous), must have been one of the first inbreedings Tobin did (full siblings). He had high hopes for her, and she was the granddam of Wycliff.
Deer Run Beguine, an early inbreeding and the granddam of the famous Wycliff.
One of Deer Run's most influential dogs, Ch. Deer Run Wycliff, shown here by the late Vic Capone.
After a few years of dedicated work, on May 12, 1976, Tobin bred a litter out of Deer Run Jericho City and Deer Run Stella, giving birth to one of most influential Mastiffs at that time, Ch. Deer Run Wycliff, with more than 40 champion get. Douglas B. Oliff published a story of his visit to Deer Run Kennels in 1983.
“You can take it from me,” he wrote, “these dogs can move.” What impressed him even more, he continued, “was the complete lack of nervousness or aggression in the kennel inmates.” Oliff made a special mention of Deer Run Wycliff: “Wycliff would set a new standard over here, for a combination of type, soundness and precision of movement.”
On April 26, 1975, Deer Run Zen (Deer Run Noah Massalane x Deer Run Jennifer) was whelped, and three years later he became the first Mastiff to win a Best in Show. Certainly the high Mastiff circles were not very impressed because Zen won it in a “small” show (less than 1,000 dogs) in Puerto Rico. However, the next year, Zen was BOB at the National over 83 Mastiffs (and again in 1982 as a veteran), leaving no doubt about his quality.
Ch. Deer Run Zen, the first Mastiff to win a Best in Show, shown here by Damara Bolté.
In 1980, Deer Run William the Conqueror became the second Mastiff to win a Best in Show. William was placed more than 100 times in the Working Group, with 27 Group Firsts and nine Bests in Show. Deer Run William the Conqueror took Best of Breed twice at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and was the first Mastiff to win a Group placement (a Group 3) at the show, in 1988.
In his constant search for improvement, Tobin imported two offspring of the great English Ch. Hollesley Medicine Man: Glynpedr Tyzer (Medicine Man x Zanfi Bellona), who can be seen in many pedigrees, and Falmorehall Mistral of Deer Run (Medicine Man x Farnaby Fighting Faith of Falmorehal). Unfortunately, Mistral never produced anything Tobin could breed on from.
Were there any accidents at Deer Run? Yes. Tobin pushed a bitch that was in season into her run, so a huge Mastiff, Deer Run Ahab, attacked him. Tobin was bitten in the thighs, hip and back. He held tightly on to the fence with one hand and with the other hand he petted Ahab, speaking very kindly to ease his anger until he released him.
A brindle that Jackson considered one of his best, Deer Run Dervish, shown by Sue Capone.
Over the years, Tobin had some favorite dogs, some because of their look and some of because their character, among them: Beguine, Wycliff, Ivan, Durango, Police and Bahama Mama. His favorite brindle Mastiff was Deer Run Dervish; he was sure Dervish was one of the finest brindles he had ever seen. Unfortunately, Dervish died very young without producing any offspring. In one of Tobin’s articles (“Autumn Reflections”) he wrote that Tosha von Larson, a Mastiff bitch that went to Deer Run at two years old, was in his heart, the spirit and soul of a Mastiff. He had the feeling that Tosha sensed before he did what thought would next come in to his mind, and because of her remarkable intelligence, she moved to a commanding position in the household.
Many names were mentioned in our conversations. The ones that more often came with his anecdotes were Jay and Ruth Winston, Vic and Sue Capone, Mary Joynes, Jette Tornberg and Elizabeth Degerdon. Oddly, Tobin didn’t talk too much about Zeek Gibbs. I can only remember he died suddenly of a heart attack.
Other breeds at Deer Run were Neapolitan Mastiff, Perro de Presa Canario, Kuvasz and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Jackson with "Sherman," a Neapolitan Mastiff. Deer Run imported its first Neos in the early 1980s.
In 1997, when Tobin and I were already involved in dog shows in Mexico, and I started hearing rumors and speculation about his past, I felt compelled to ask him a few questions on that matter.
I asked Tobin if he had bred Saint Bernards to Mastiffs, and his answer was yes. In my humble opinion, there is no need of justification for that answer. Which Mastiffs did he use? I don’t know. When did that happen? I don’t know, either. What I do know is that Tobin told me he waited four generations of breeding back to Mastiffs before considering the offspring for his breeding program.
Was he banned or suspended from AKC? Yes, he was suspended because of bad record keeping. Tobin really wasn’t very organized with all his kennel papers. I’ve seen championship certificates and pedigrees with Mastiff footprints all over them.
Why did he leave everything behind and move to Mexico? This one Tobin can answer, with part of a letter he faxed to his niece in 1997.
“After I made the decision to leave Deer Run I went through about two months of intense self evaluation,” he wrote. “Leaving 27 years of my life behind, the security of my home, friends and whatever position I had in life was easier to deal with than the questions of who I was. How could I at 70 years old just pack up a few belongings and head out into a world from which I had isolated myself for so long. It was as if I was assuming a new identity but what that was alluded [sic] me. What lay ahead, I knew was unsure. In truth, I had already had serious doubts about the first place in Mexico that was to be my home, and on the way down stopping at several friends I was urged to abandon the idea of Mexico. I was offered guest houses, an apartment in Florida and various other safe havens, but something kept nagging at me to go on. I just knew that grasping for security at that particular time of my life would somehow have concluded any opportunity for growth of my being. It seemed to me that it would be like an old motor that just stalled and gave up. Even now I don’t delude myself that I know the answers, but I’m content that I avoided the rocking chair in favor of an exciting unknown, and that I can still accept life’s challenges.”
Tobin came to Mexico driving his blue van with a mobile home, where he lived for a few months at Queretaro City. He brought Pitbulls, Shar-pei, Mastiffs, Bordeaux, American Bulldogs and Presa Canarios. Some of them stayed at the first kennel where I met him.
The Deer Run Mastiffs in Canalejas, Mexico.
At Canalejas, little by little, he started bringing dogs: four Mastiff bitches and one male; two Presa Canario bitches and two males; two Dogue bitches and one male; and two American Bulldog bitches and one male. By the end of 1997, we had 25 Mastiffs, nine of them adults.
We produced around 50 Mastiff puppies. The last of the Mastiffs who proudly carried the Deer Run affix in his name was my beloved friend, Deer Run Odin.
The author showing Deer Run Odin, the last Mastiff to carry the Deer Run name.
We had plans for the future. We considered bringing a young adult from the U.S., and also sending puppies there. Unfortunately, Tobin got sick, and we had to sell all the dogs in order to start his medical care.
In 1999, after three months of treatment, Tobin decided to go back to the U.S. We kept in touch first by phone and regular mail, and then we started e-mailing. The last time I spoke to Tobin Jackson was in March 2008. He made a brief call on my birthday. “How are you doing?” he said. “How are your parents? How are your daughters? How is your wife? Happy birthday. Keep well, my friend.” It was then that I knew he was very close to the end.
“It was a very great blessing that he met you,” wrote Tobin’s sister in an email to me after his death in 2008. “It seems it didn’t take long for you to become friends and enjoy each other’s company. You were kind enough to welcome him into your home and included him in many of your important family occasions. The house you provided for him made it possible for him to be independent. He loved the people in the village and had great admiration for their ability to have joy in their simple lives. In one of his letters he described a Sunday market day and all the activity that went on that was so much fun. How he ever managed with so little ability to speak Spanish, I will never know. Obviously, the people had much patience trying to understand his attempts at speaking the language. He truly was enjoying his life without all the responsibilities that had burdened him in running Deer Run. If he had not become ill, I am sure he would have stayed there and lived his final days happy and content. However, that was not to be.”
Tobin Jackson made great contributions to my personal life. He looked at me as his younger brother, and he was willing to look after me. I know he felt quite comfortable in transmitting to me his knowledge and experience in Mastiffs, even granting me all rights to Deer Run Kennels. However, this is the end of the Deer Run story. Tobin has passed away, and Deer Run will remain only in Mastiff history, no longer in new pedigrees.