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Return to Deer Run

Tobin Jackson and his Mastiff kennel are gone. But the ghosts linger.
Everyone remembers the driveway.
 
There is no street number or sign – one just has to know when to turn off this sleepy country road in rural Frenchtown, N.J. A wild tangle of shrubs and saplings brushes against the car’s sides as it bounces down the unpaved drive. Branches and seedlings constantly encroach on this slice of gravel and dirt, wanting to reclaim it, return it to wilderness. 
 
For those who had driven down its length in the past, the driveway had always been unnerving, not just for its jungle-like shrubbery, but for its long, seemingly endless duration – and for a visitor’s inability to see where it was leading.
 

The driveway that once led to Deer Run, in 2010.
 
 
 
That driveway is as apt a metaphor as any for Tobin Jackson, whose world-famous Deer Run Mastiff kennel once lay at the end of it. Jackson, who died in 2008, was just as enigmatic and mysterious, revealing himself only in glimpses.
 
“You either loved Tobin, or you hated him,” says Ruth Winston of Floral Park, N.Y., who co-owned dogs with Jackson and counted herself firmly in the first camp. “That was Tobin.”
 
Indeed, there probably has never been a figure in Mastiffs – perhaps even in dogs – who has been more controversial than Tobin Jackson. Along with ribbons and show records, Jackson also garnered his fair share of criticism for his unorthodox breeding practices and his pedigrees, debates that reverberate even today. Depending to whom you speak, he was either a master breeder whose winning dogs created a tsunami of jealousy from lesser breeders – or a master manipulator who colored so far outside the lines he compromised the very breed itself.
 
One thing that is not disputed, however, is Jackson’s indelible impact on the Mastiff worldwide. Phenomenally successful in the show ring and unparalleled in terms of the sheer numbers of dogs produced, his Deer Run line now stands behind the vast majority of the world’s Mastiffs – most breed experts put the number as high as 95 to 99 percent. On that 11-acre property surrounded by farmland, Jackson bred the first Best in Show-winning Mastiff, Ch. Deer Run’s Zen, who took that honor in Puerto Rico in 1978. It was followed two years later by the breed’s first-ever mainland BIS by Ch. Deer Run’s William the Conqueror, who also was the first Mastiff to place in the Group at Westminster. And Jackson produced some of the breed’s most influential sires, including Ch. Deer Run’s Wycliff, the most prolific ever.
 
Adele Pfenninger and Christofer Habig took these photos of Jackson with Ch. Deer Run Wycliff in 1984. Wycliff was the most prolific sire the breed has ever known.
“I think he did a lot for Mastiffs. I think he got them sounder, with more angulation, and more outgoing,” says well-known handler and judge Damara Bolte, who handled some of Jackson’s dogs and who bred Mastiffs under the Reveille banner. “I don’t know about his ethics or any of the unorthodox things he may have done, but I think he was about the only person who could do it.”
 
Most people’s lives read like novels, each chapter a natural unfolding of the one that came before. But Tobin Jackson’s is more like a collection of essays, each dramatic and self-contained, each almost wholly disconnected from the rest.
 
Born Jerome Jackson in Methuen, Mass., in 1923, Jackson was one of nine children. He joined his five brothers in military duty during World War II, serving in the United States Air Force as a staff sergeant gunner and bombardier. Flying two dozen missions over enemy territory on a B17 heavy bomber, he survived forced landings and crashes, and returned home a decorated war hero.
 
Jackson's modeling career often cast him as the "all-American" ideal.
 
 
 
By the 1950s, he had moved to California, taken his mother’s maiden name as his first, and embarked on a modeling career. The tear sheets that survive today from the Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine, selling products as varied as Cadillacs and cigarettes, distill the freshly scrubbed, all-American ideal of that saccharine decade. In them, Jackson is impossibly handsome, youthful, ethereal almost.
 
While on the West Coast, Jackson met his business partner, Donald Deke Vaundeall Gibbs, better known as Zeek. In another seemingly disjointed segue, the two returned east, set up a pet store in Manhattan, and began to breed what was then a rare breed, the Affenpinscher. In 1969, Jackson and Gibbs co-authored one of the first books on the breed, “How to Raise and Train an Affenpinscher.”
 
The longest and most detailed passage of Jackson’s life was inaugurated by the move in the 1960s to Frenchtown, where for close to three decades he dedicated himself to the breeding of Mastiffs, and a smattering of other breeds. 
 
The car rattles along the rutted Deer Run driveway. Finally, the driveway ends, and opens onto a clearing. In Jackson’s day, a knot of a dozen or more Mastiffs, many of them grizzled seniors, would be ambling over now, surrounding the visitor in a pressing throng of fawn, as the odd peacock or show chicken skittered by. 
 
But all that is gone now, and on this crisp fall day there is only birdsong, and the stillness of what can best be described as a dog ghost town.
 
In the mid-1990s, after unpaid real-estate taxes began to mount, Jackson dispersed all but a handful of his dogs, abandoned Deer Run and headed to Mexico. Today, more than 15 years later, the land is privately owned and has been approved for subdivision, though only two houses have been built on its perimeter. On the opposite side of the property, the 210-year-old farmhouse that was Jackson’s base of operation, and all the other structures – including a small stone outbuilding, and the once proud red barn – remain, but barely. They are literal ruins, the barn having collapsed on itself, the house unnavigable, its windows smashed, the first floor caving in to the basement below.
 
Above: The Deer Run property was pockmarked with runs and enclosures, and their attendant shelters. Photo by Denise Flaim. Below: More than 15 years after Jackson's departure, vestiges of his kennel, large and small, are still scattered around the property, including this homemade metal trough and plastic water dish. 
 
 
By all accounts, Deer Run was a huge operation – dog breeding gone viral. Built in 1800, the quaint farmhouse was converted by Jackson into a kennel. In a retrofitting that would send This Old House fans into paroxysms, the charming fireplace was Sheetrocked, crates were embedded in the walls, dog doors were cut into the clapboard. Chain-link kennel runs flanked the house’s sides. After two decades, the detritus of a life surrounded by dogs still remains, slowly engulfed by vegetation – dog bowls, rusted choke chains, marrow bones, a filthy, moldy dog-show ribbon.
 
Jackson's partner, Zeek Gibbs, with Deer Run Noah Massalane, an important dog in early Deer Run pedigrees.
 
 
 
With the house turned over to the dogs, Jackson and Gibbs lived in a configuration of trailers nearby – one for each of them, and a middle trailer for whelping and office work. The trailers have since collapsed, but Jackson’s desk still stands, warped and buried in debris, set on a carpet of fallen leaves.
 
“You’d go down to Tobin and you never knew what he had,” remembers professional handler David Saylor of Easton, Penn, who showed for Jackson. “Tobin had dogs from wall to wall, and then he boarded on top of it. He might have 20 litters at a time, and then there were the adults. A couple of times, with puppies, I thought it was close to 300 dogs. They’d come out of everywhere, out of the woods, and surround the van. You never knew. If you needed a couple of extra dogs to go on a circuit, you just stopped by Tobin’s.”
 
Estimates about just how many dogs Jackson had vary, depending on the year and the visitor, from 40 adults to as many as 100 at the kennel’s peak.
 
Behind the decaying house is a long, wide alley lined on either side by runs. The chain-link fencing has been removed, but the aluminum poles remain, sticking out of the ground like the masts of sunken ships. This was the kennel’s showplace of adult Mastiffs, and visitors recall Jackson pushing a wheelbarrow down the lane, tossing chicken backs across the fence tops and into the waiting maws of the Mastiffs, long before feeding raw became fashionable.
 
It was here where the late English breed specialist Douglas Oliff spent time in 1983 admiring the kennel’s dogs, by then in their seventh generation.
 
“The first thing that struck me was a large sticker on the back of the transporter which read ‘Mastiffs Are Magnificent,’ and quite a few in the kennel were just this,” he wrote in Britain’s Dog World newspaper. “The owner was kind enough to move any dog which I wanted to see, and you can take it from me that these dogs can move. The leading sire Ch. Deer Run Wycliff would set a new standard over here for a combination of type, soundness and precision of movement.”
 
In contrast to  what Mastiff fancier Virginia Wind of Flemington, N.J., calls “Mastiff Row,” in later years Jackson built enclosures further back in the property. As his resources dwindled, these were sometimes crude wire enclosures with a dog house. Hard pressed to feed and water all those animals, Jackson caught rainwater in troughs made out of oil drums.
 
Deer Run Ivan, whom Jackson called "Ivie," with then-Molosser Magazin publisher Christofer Habig.
 
 
Depending on who is doing the remembering, and when they visited, the little stone outbuilding housed peacocks, or a Spanish or Neapolitan Mastiff, a hat tip to Jackson’s interest in rare breeds, which he cultivated in later years by organizing rare-breed and Molosser match shows. (Early on, Jackson founded the North & East Mastiff Fanciers, now called Garden State Mastiff Fanciers; the club’s annual picnics at Buck County every May led to huge Mastiff entries that persist at the Pennsylvania show to this day.)
 
Mastiff visitors recall not being given admittance into the barn. “He wouldn’t let you near it,” says Virginia Wind. “He said, ‘Oh, that’s where the aggressive dogs are – you can’t go in there.’” More specifically, the barn housed Jackson’s Presa Canarios, an indigenous Canary Island breed that he spearheaded in the United States – with as much attendant contention as his Mastiffs, if not more. (See Canary Island Controversy.)
 
In a breed beset by fertility issues, Jackson had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of husbandry and reproduction. Adele Pfenninger, of the well-known Tailwynde Bullmastiff kennel, lived only about seven miles from Deer Run. Deciding to try her hand at Mastiffs, she acquired a Peach Farm bitch and took her over to Jackson’s to breed. The bitch never settled, and Pfenninger decided to stick to Bullmastiffs, though Jackson soon turned into a valued mentor.
 
“I have very kind and fond memories of him. Some people don’t, and it’s usually from jealousy,” she says. “He taught me a lot about the act of breeding. He taught me about infusing a bitch before and after you breed her to cut down on the bacteria. I felt like a student when I was around him – he had been breeding a lot longer than I had.”
 
To manage as many puppies as he produced, Jackson had to be creative, especially given that Mastiffs are often inattentive and clumsy mothers, either ignoring their new whelps, or inadvertently squashing them. Jackson’s solution was wet nurses, oftentimes Beagles who could sustain the young whelps without posing any danger to them.
 
Friends also sometimes took whole litters to bottle-feed and raise. Judy Haight of Central Islip, N.Y., who now breeds an emerging wolf-like breed called the Tamaskan, met Jackson in the early 1980s, when she saw his Mastiff ad in the back of Dog World magazine. She was a frequent visitor to Deer Run, spending weekends there to help put together the North & East Mastiff Fanciers newsletter. She remembers he had a raised run set up in one of the trailers, so he didn’t have to bend down on his hands and knees to help bitches whelp.
 
Despite the numbers produced at Deer Run, Haight says she never saw Jackson cull a puppy. “Sooner or later, he’d place them out, even if he gave something away,” she says.
 
Scattered throughout the property are large mounds of earth that are reportedly dog graves. Given the number of dogs that lived at Deer Run for decades, as well as the copious amount of waste they produced, it is reasonable to assume that the earthen moguls arose through general attrition of the property’s huge canine population.
 
Those who knew Jackson recall an unfailingly charming man, quick witted and intelligent, with a good sense of humor. Ruth Winston, who signed on to Jackson’s famous import, Ch. Falmorehall Mistral of Deer Run, and took her home for a period of time, remembers Jackson calling her to say the bitch had “croaked.” Winston’s gasps were met with peals of laughter as Jackson explained the bitch was indeed croaking – she had swallowed a frog during a foray into one of the ponds.
 
Ch. Falmorehall Mistral of Deer Run, an imported Medicine Man daughter, shown by Jay Winston, with Tobin Jackson holding trophy.
 
 
But when it came to breeding – and especially the management of bitch and whelps – Jackson was all business. Friends and acquaintances note his willingness to field any phone call, at any hour of the night.
 
“Tobin was always willing to share his knowledge with you,” says Rick Cisneros of Night Stalker Mastiffs in Delmar, Md., who sought out Tobin Jackson in the late 1970s after deciding that if he couldn’t beat the Deer Run dogs in the ring, he ought to get one. He remembers a call he and his vet placed to Jackson at 3:30 in the morning as they struggled to work on a 10-week-old puppy that was fading quickly. “He’s nursing off a bad breast,” Jackson insisted over the phone, and sure enough, as the vet looked more closely, he found a couple of small ports near the bitch’s nipples, signs of impending mastitis.
 
While Haight and others say Jackson was somewhat circumspect when it came to breeding advice, he did share observations on type and function. One day when Cisneros was talking about his dog’s scissor bite, Jackson held out a piece of wood and asked Cisneros to grab it with a pair of pliers. Cisneros did as instructed, and Jackson twisted the wood out of his hands. “I told you to hold on to it,” he chided Cisernos, then handed him channel-lock pliers, which are adjustable so one end overlaps the other. Cisneros placed the wood in the channel locks, and Jackson pulled, to no avail.
 
“That’s a Mastiff’s mouth,” Cisneros remembers Jackson saying. “When you have a true Mastiff mouth, an undershot bite, it locks in place.”
 
Cisneros also recalls asking Jackson about white toenails, which are not preferred according to the Mastiff standard. “He said to me, ‘When this breed gets to the point where a white toenail makes a difference, I’ll be long dead and gone.’ And here I was selling my best dogs as pets because of a white toenail on a hind leg.”
 
Jackson’s understanding of type, and his ability to translate it to dog flesh, naturally led to success in the show ring. Entering the breed at a time when many rears were stick straight and movement unsound, Jackson set out to make his dogs functional.
 
 
An early Deer Run brochure. The dog pictured is Deer Run Rufus.
 
 
“When I started in the late ’60s, early ’70s, people imported stuff. Those dogs moved across the ring like seals,” says David Saylor. “Tobin did what he did with no money. But whatever he did, worked. People with money have been trying to breed what Tobin bred, and they can’t. Any good Mastiff, any Mastiff that has Best in Shows, goes back to Tobin.”
 
Despite all his dog knowledge, Jackson refused to judge. “My wife tried to get him to do some sweeps for Affenpinschers, but he just didn’t want to judge them,” Saylor recalls. “He was so afraid he would make a mistake.”
 
While Jackson’s dogs excelled in soundness and substance, it was sometimes at the cost of type. Damara Bolte thinks back to a big winner, Ch. Deer Run Ezekiel. “He was the one that stands out because he did a lot,” she says. “He had tremendous bone and he could really go. But he wasn’t the typiest dog in the world.”
 
Had Jackson never been involved in the breed, Bolte believes the Mastiff would have eventually found its way to greater soundness – though “I think it would have taken a lot longer to get there,” she says.
 
Others are less optimistic. “The Mastiff breed would be gone,” says Patty Groppetti of Bourbon, Mo., whose eponymous line is based on Deer Run dogs, and who was one of Jackson’s closest friends. “Back then, everybody who owned Mastiffs only owned one or two dogs. Only 35 percent of Mastiffs conceive and breed, and it’s very common to have single-puppy litters.” 
 
Well-known handler Alan Levine of Allentown, Pennsylvania, sums up Jackson’s accomplishments succinctly.
 
“He made the breed walk,” he says. “The breed was a crippled breed. Like some Neos are today, that’s the way Mastiffs were.”
 
The 800-pound gorilla in the room when talking about Jackson are the persistent accusations that in order to introduce soundness to the breed, he resorted to outcrosses. Saint Bernards are mentioned most often, as well as Great Danes. Several regular visitors to Deer Run say Jackson admitted this to them – including Miguel Angel Sanchez, Tobin’s kennel partner in Mexico in his final years  – but no one interviewed for this story saw the actual breedings.
 
Despite there being no proof of illicit pairings, Levine notes that using outcrosses was hardly a new idea in dog breeding, and certainly not in Mastiffs, where earlier crosses to Saints and Dogues de Bordeaux are well documented. “Total cross breeding of two breeds gets rid of congenital faults that are dominant, like, usually, bad hearts,” he says. “It makes the breed stronger, not weaker.”
 
Groppetti says the stories are just that – stories. “Tobin taught me well – I breed tight,” she says, referring to Jackson’s heavy use of linebreeding, frequently pairing half brother to half sister. “I’ve only used Deer Run blood for 31 years – don’t you believe I would have had a lot of piebalds and long hairs?” – a reference to “throwbacks” that would be occasioned by using Saint blood, which was also used in the breed’s distant past. “I’ve had one piebald, out of a mother-son breeding, and a total of four longhairs born.”
 
Groppetti disagrees that there was no soundness to be coaxed out of the breed in those early years without resorting to outcrosses. “I can take two dogs as sound as a dollar bill and breed them and get horrible rears. And I can take two dogs with horrible rears and get a sound dog, and I can set type with that dog.”
 
For every person who claims to have seen an exhausted Great Dane in a run with a Mastiff bitch in standing season, or a Mastiff with Saint Bernard patterning, there is someone like Martin Lieberman of Glen Cove, N.Y., who visited Deer Run in the 1980s.
 
“He had very well-put-together dogs, athletic English Mastiffs, nice, solid specimens,” he recalls, guessing that the dogs numbered about 100. “The average English Mastiff you saw back then was a jalopy.”
 
When Lieberman saw the Medicine Man daughter Falmorehall Mistral of Deer Run, he was floored. “She looked like a lioness – she had incredible strength of inner thigh, a great bite,” he says. “I had $2,500 in my pocket, which was not a little bit of money in those days. I reached in and took it out. And he laughed at me.”
 
In the three or four times Lieberman visited Deer Run, “I never saw any breeds other than Mastiffs, maybe a few Presas,” he says. “I was crossing dogs at the time for my Bandog project” – an old type being recreated in modern times with mastiff- and bullie-type crosses – “so I was particularly sensitive to that.”
 
What is certain is that Jackson had a problem with accurate recordkeeping. In June 1987, he was suspended by the American Kennel Club for failure to comply with recordkeeping and identification practices. His privileges were reinstated a year and a half later.
 
Virginia Wind, who used Ch. Deer Run Wycliff to sire her first and only litter, in 1984 – “and I witnessed it,” she says pointedly – returned to the Deer Run property about five years ago with a friend. There, she says, they found dozens upon dozens of unused registration certificates in the trailer office – a stack about two inches high.
 
Given Jackson’s show-ring success, and the swirling rumors surrounding his kennel, a backlash seemed inevitable. Far removed from those who see Jackson as the breed’s savior – CafePress.com sells an $18 baseball jersey emblazoned with the words “Tobin was a genius” – there are those who are so averse to Jackson and his line that they gave themselves an acronym: “DRF,” short for “Deer Run free.”
 
Mike Wolfe of Wrathmore Mastiffs in Frazeysburg, Ohio, is a case in point. In the course of 20 years in the breed, he let his Deer Run lines die off.
 
“I am a fan of the old English dogs from the ’80s, which I believe fit the standard better and have the look and temperament I like,” says Wolfe, who never knew Jackson. “I was very dedicated to finding Deer Run Free pedigrees, and spent hours and hours on the Internet looking for ‘clean’ pedigrees, without much luck.”
 
Wolfe thinks the estimate of Deer Run-free Mastiffs being 1 percent of all the Mastiffs in the world is grossly inflated. “That would be one out of a hundred,” he says. “I would guess that if you gave me a list of 1,000 dogs from around the world, I’d be lucky to find one that was Deer Run free.”
 
Wolfe is matter of fact about his assessment of Deer Run, and the man behind it. “Tobin made the breed what it is today, for better or worse,” he says. “I believe he ruined it.”
 
Jackson and Deer Run Wycliff on the cover of the U.S.-based Dog World magazine in 1984.
 
 
Like Wolfe, many of the DRF kennels cite the “impurity” of the Deer Run line as their raison d’etre. But Stephen Napotnik of Greiner Hall Mastiffs in Elkton, Va., has a more nuanced reason – one that would likely be appreciated by Jackson himself.
 
“Tobin’s view was one of homogenizing the breed, and I think that’s pretty much come true, because there are very few dogs left that aren’t Deer Run – there’s some frozen semen out there and very few females,” says Napotnik, who first acquired a Reveille dog in 1972 and started breeding a little more than a decade later. “You can almost do a hand count of how many.”
 
But if a breed has a tightly linebred component, “you have to keep outcrossing available,” continues Napotnik, who owned Deer Run dogs early on, though they are not in his pedigrees. He points out that Jackson himself imported English blood like Mistral, Glynpedr Tyzer and others to continue his very inbred strain. “For English lines” – that is, lines that have no Deer Run – “there are not that many places to go.”
 
Napotnik’s goal is more about preservation than purity. “The English lines are very few and far between, and when you’re not producing quantity, you tend to fade away,” he explains. “You need support and good PR to try and get people encouraged to keep these lines alive.” When he sees his DRF dogs crossed with Deer Run pedigrees, he says he’s pleased, because he has accomplished his goal of providing a viable outcross.
 
Napotnik started calling Jackson in the 1970s, “grilling” him on the phone weekly. “There was no breeder like him,” he says. “If there was ever an issue – from diet to genetics to pretty much across the board – he had had it, and he had dealt with it. There was no breeder that was more helpful ever – not in a self-serving way, but in a genuine, helpful way.”
 
To be sure, the two did not see eye to eye on certain issues, among them ethical ones such as back-to-back breedings. Indeed, today’s more politically correct breeders might blanch at Jackson’s use of breeding racks, his large-scale breeding operation or his practice of putting his breeding animals on thyroid medication to optimize fertility.
 
Philosophical differences aside, Napotnik respected Jackson’s breeding instinct. “He had common sense and such a good mind for genetics. Zak [Ch. Deer Run Zachary], for instance, was never by far his greatest-looking dog – he was an average dog at that. But he was a great producer – when you look at what he produced, it was just tremendous. And Tobin knew that.”
 
As for the Deer Run line itself, Napotnik notes that the majority of breeders who incorporated it into their stock soon let it drift away from the type Jackson set. “The Deer Run lines so many years later, do they look like Ivan or Wycliff? Not really,” he says. “The variation in the breed is as big or bigger than ever. That’s counter to what he wanted to do.”
 
If anything, Napotnik is proof that one can disagree strongly with various aspects of Jackson’s approach, but appreciate the end results – and the man’s virtues alongside his flaws. 
 
“There are so many people that advertise ‘No Deer Run,’ but they never knew Tobin,” he says. “They have no reason to dislike him, other than hearsay.”
 
 
Today, the Deer Run property is still pockmarked with runs and enclosures, and their attendant shelters. Photo by Denise Flaim.
 
And some who knew Jackson found ample reason to like, even love him. By all accounts, he had a magnetic personality, though he revealed very little of his private life or his personal thoughts, even to those closest to him. 
 
“There was something very warm about him – I just adored him,” says Winston, who would drive the two and a half hours from Long Island to Frenchtown to help Jackson whelp and bottle-feed puppies. “He worked very hard. He did not have an easy life. I don’t know why he did it.”
 
And very few claim to know why. Even to those who called him friend, Jackson was a cipher. No one seems to know exactly why he chose Mastiffs. Or why he opted for a life of virtual hermitude in Frenchtown, rarely venturing off the property overnight for fear of leaving his dogs. Or why he preferred the dogs over the comforts he had grown accustomed to in Hollywood or on Park Avenue: Though Jackson made a living by selling his dogs – a criticism often leveled at him – he certainly did little more than subsist on his dog-filled property. And in the end, he could not do even that.
 
“When Tobin was going out of business, he called me, and said, ‘I want you to come here, please,’” Patty Groppetti remembers. “He said, ‘Go through my dogs.’ There were about 80, and he said, ‘What do you like?’ And I said, ‘I like that one, and that one, and that one,’ and he said, ‘Load them up.’”
 
Groppetti, like many of Jackson’s closest friends, is bitter over the vehemence that has been leveled at him. “No one knew Tobin. He was such a private man. I loved him with all my heart. People have been so vicious throughout the years. This is one thing he told me from day one: ‘Kill them with kindness, Patty. Kill them with kindness.’”
 
After Jackson left Deer Run for Mexico, he eventually settled in the small mountain pueblo of Canalajas. From there, he often made road trips to Guatemala and Honduras, where he combed archeological sites and satisfied his fascination with Mayan culture. He still bred dogs, albeit on a much more limited scale, this time in partnership with newfound friend Miguel Angel Sanchez. 
 
“He was so happy. He loved the ruins, he loved that he could live on $5 a month, loved the people he was with,” Groppetti says. “He didn’t need a lot. I begged him to write a book, to write his memoirs. But no way he wanted to leave one word said to anybody.”
 
A rusted remnant of kennel life hangs in the dilapilated farmhouse. Photo by Theresa M. Lyons
 
 
In 1999, deepening illness forced Jackson to return to his native Massachusetts, where he renewed ties with his family and taught computer and digital photography classes to local senior citizens. He died there in a nursing home just 10 days shy of his 85th birthday, never having revisited the Mastiff community he left behind, and leaving them with as many questions as answers: Did he introduce crosses into the Mastiff, effectively contaminating the gene pool of virtually every specimen of the breed? If so, did the end justify the means? Is the Mastiff today better off for Tobin Jackson, and even if it is, does that justify how it got there?
 
“Do I approve of everything that happened? No. But do I respect the fact that he did what needed to be done? Yes,” Rick Cisneros says. “Somebody had to be able to stand up and say, bottom line, our breed was in shambles. We had a pioneer who was willing to stick his neck out and help the breed. He didn’t do it for fame and fortune. He didn’t get rich. His fame came from the quality of dogs he had. Tobin swung the pendulum.”
 
Perhaps, in the end, Jackson found solace with his Mastiffs because they did not judge. In Mexico, Sanchez remembers asking Jackson about the worst thing he had ever done in his life.
 
“Miguel, no matter what you do in your life, never regret it,” Sanchez remembers him saying. “If you think you are going to [regret it], then don’t do it.”
 
Over in Frenchtown, the earth slowly encroaches on the vestiges of the kennel that changed the Mastiff forever. The driveway continues its battle against an ever-advancing army of bark and leaf. Yet, against all odds, a decade and a half after his departure, Tobin Jackson’s Deer Run is still there, an archeological site unto itself, the ruins of what either was a brilliant vision, or a sad delusion.
 
 
With special thanks to Virginia Wind for leading the way to Deer Run.
 
 
© Modern Molosser Magazine. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.