They know that the excessive hanging, loose skin that creates all the wrinkles on the head, dewlap and rest of the body is due to a defect in the connective tissue of the entire organism. It may be akin to Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA) in quarter horses and Ehler-Danlos syndrome in people, where there is a defect in the elastin matrix of the connective tissue. Hence loose joints, with, eventually, arthritic disease, and weak muscles, including the heart muscle, resistance to healing of wounds, etc. The Italian fix for this: Change the standard to read, “The folds of skin should never compromise the functionality of the eyes.” They eliminate the description, “The elbows are covered with abundant loose skin” and add the description of the skin as “Thick, abundant, and loose all over the body, without exaggeration.” Then they increase the height and weight of the Neo, and substitute for the description of its appearance, the word “large” instead of “large, heavy, and massive.”
By the time the new FCI standard for the Neapolitan Mastiff is rewritten, it will describe an English Mastiff more than a Neapolitan Mastiff. The resulting dog that would fit the new standard would certainly be healthier than the old Neapolitan Mastiff. Trying to get an eye without upper-lid entropion caused by the heavy, thick wrinkling over the brow, and the ectropion of the lower lids, caused by the heavy wrinkles of the lips and dewlaps pulling the eyelids down, will effectively result in the elimination of the heavy wrinkling of the face – the trademark of the Neo. The only way the tight eye can happen is to remove the heavy wrinkles. (Granted, the English Mastiff has been getting more and more wrinkled lately, with concomitant upper lid-entropion and lower-lid ectropion.) So, the Neapolitan Mastiff will look more and more like the English Mastiff, and the English Mastiff will look more and more like the Neapolitan, until only color will tell the two apart.
Ch. El Gavilan della Alta Fiumara, bred and owned by Antonio di Lorenzo, was the sire of Ramon and Islero del Bonrampino. “Note the tight eyes, because the heads were broader and the wrinkles on top not as heavy,” Allen says.
But maybe it won’t be that simple. How can one change a breed type from wrinkled to less wrinkled if all the ancestors are wrinkled in the head and carry the genes for copious, wrinkled, heavy skin? Does one throw a few English Mastiffs or Great Danes into the mix? Think about it: How are you going to get new traits to show up in a breed when they do not exist? Actually, how did the rather dry Neapolitans of the 1950s end up with all the wrinkles and heavy skin and massive bone they have today? There are people in the Italian countryside who know how this happened. DNA testing was not done until the last decade. Lots of things happened to make the Neapolitan Mastiff what it is today. And lots of things will happen to make it what certain groups want to make it become in the future, so that it can fit into the health standards of the new self-proclaimed breed police.
Times are changing, and as our society becomes more and more tech oriented, it becomes less and less animal savvy. Americans on the East and West coasts are not involved so much in animal husbandry or agricultural endeavors anymore. They do not know how to deal with animals in general, especially giant, messy dogs that need a dominant, albeit benevolent figure in their life. I believe this is why the Neo breeders now tend to be in the Midwest and West now, where Americans still have their rural and animal-oriented roots, rather than on the coasts anymore.
No matter how many times you tell the prospective buyer who wants to purchase “a puppy who will be another family member to us” that Neos are very difficult to housebreak, that they urinate about every half-hour until they are four months old, that they drool when they drink, that they are prone to all sorts of orthopedic developmental diseases, the people do not listen. I have learned that there are animal-people who know how to handle big, assertive and potentially aggressive dogs, and there are people-people who will never be able to handle any dog. They are the ones who make movies about yellow Labs that run rampant through the house destroying everything for years. No, there are very few Americans to whom one can sell a Neapolitan Mastiff anymore.
If the breeders of Neos breed dogs with too many health problems as a result of type, the market will not be there for the puppies. So people will change their criteria for breeding. The Italians are doing it already, because they have seen their market decline.
In the future, I think fewer breeders will show their dogs because of economics. Of those that do show, the majority will be newbies. The long-time breeders will not value the opinion of a judge who knows nothing about the breed anyway. Eventually breeders of Neapolitan Mastiffs will lose interest in showing and hence in breeding for the show ring. Look what has happened to many prominent Neapolitan Mastiff breeders in the past two years. Some have gone bankrupt and given their dogs away. Some disappeared. Some just got out of Neos. When there is no more social networking at shows and dialogue between breeders who are in competition with one another, the industry gradually stops.
The Neos of the 1980s were lean and dry, but not more sound than the Neos of today. The Neos of the 2000s gradually became more and more overdone, and less sound. Recently however, the Neos appearing at the shows seem to be pretty, sound and with adequate, but not overdone type. I do not have any photos of the 2011 USNMC Neapolitan Mastiff Specialty winners. But the previous issue of Modern Molosser does have photos. The dogs pictured are sound, elegant and impressive.
Accompanying the story is a picture of a Neo from Amazing Love Neapolitan Mastiffs (pictured here). I do not know this kennel, but the dog is exquisite. The head proportions and wrinkles are perfect. The dog looks intelligent. The front legs are incredibly straight. The bone is wonderful. That, in my opinion, is a wonderful and perfect Neapolitan Mastiff. Kudos. I hope it was a product of a natural breeding, and not of some surgical insemination. I hope its mother whelped it freely. I hope it can breed naturally. I hope it doesn’t smell. I can’t see any sores on its body in the photo. I hope it stands quietly when examined by the vet, not lunging and tugging on the lead, pulling its owner all over the place, and trying to bite the vet when touched. I hope it is faithful to its owners, and tolerates but rather ignores other people.
Then my faith might be restored for the breed.
About the Author
Sherilyn Allen is a veterinarian who spent about 25 years immersed in the husbandry and study of the Neapolitan Mastiff. Daily, she continues to be presented with some new Neapolitan Mastiff problem that she did not previously know about. It is after you think you know it all that the real learning starts. Now she is immersed in horses.