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In the beginning…..

Once upon a time there were a few, somewhat organized, regional Mastiff Clubs around the country-mid-west; the Southern States Mastiff Club, centered primarily in Georgia and taking care of the needs of the Southern States; and the Northeast Mastiff Club, focusing on the East Coast (the root club for today’s North and East Club). The Mastiff Club of America was our national club. On the West Coast, however, there was no active club.

In the latter part of 1976, a different group of people, primarily in California, started talking about getting together and starting a club of their own. In the early part of 1977, a group got together at a show to work on bylaws and actually get the club going. This pioneering group, only some of whom we can remember by name (Doreen Listner, Colleen Depassio, Judy and Linden Kessler, Mona Madden, Mike and Dee Gensburger, Joanne Williams, Charlotte Strong, Jerry Taylor, and Heather Sheffield, among others), got together what is today the Redwood Empire Mastiff Club.

The Club’s first meeting was at the fall show of the San Mateo Kennel Club in 1977 and elected Doreen Listner as President, Dee Gensburger as Vice President, and memory fails us for the remainder of the officers elected. At the time it was voted to adopt all the Club’s rules and restate its position as a regional club under the auspices of the MCOA. It was decided to write the MCOA and inform them that, indeed, a Club was being formed and would follow and adhere to the MCOA guidelines and adopt their Code of Ethics. The Club President soon resigned and the job of running the Club for the first few years came to Dee Gensburger. In the months that followed, an active membership drive was launched and Judy Kessler took over the Newsletter, doing a remarkable job with little or no budget to speak of.

The MCOA decided our Club would host the first West Coast MCOA National Specialty to held in conjunction with the Sir Francis Drake Kennel Club Show. The day preceding the Specialty we held a supported show, judged by Marie Moore, which attracted a good entry. The Western Mastiff Fanciers (former name of the REMC) hosted the show at the Holiday Inn in Terra Linda. Following the 1978 Specialty our Club grew in popularity, membership increased and we became more involved in the direction of Mastiff rescue. About this time Bob Goldblatt took over the Newsletter.

Very broad geographic boundaries were set at the Club’s inception-anything West of the Mississippi was our territory and anyone living in that area was cordially invited to join and participate. Naturally, 90% of the activity in the Club was with the people of California. The Club’s first matches were held with Judy Kessler as Match Chairperson. We got together with the Bullmastiffs of Southern California, pooled resources and shared expense. Holding matches was both an enjoyable activity for our members and a source of revenue for the Club. The more shows we put on, the more we learned. The addition of picnics and banquets added to our success and became fund-raising events for our rescue program.

Trying to be fair to the majority of our members, we started holding matches and supported shows in both Northern and Southern California and once held a supported show in Arizona-it was a pretty good success considering the great distance many members had to travel to attend. We held supported shows with some of the largest shows in Northern and Southern California. We continued to grow, always stressing Mastiff education. At the banquet following the Santa Barbara show in Southern California, our guest speaker, Dr. Quentin LaHam, spoke on the benefits of balance and structure in all working dogs, especially the Mastiff.

More united in our ideals, we set up rules and guidelines and our first proper rescue scheme got underway. Marie Moore was so impressed with our rescue plan and donated copies of her book to our Club to be sold to raise funds for the rescue program. Later we developed a system of voluntary taxation, what our Rescue Committee Chairman, Fred Carnett, calls a “Love Tax.” We show our love for our Mastiffs, their kids and grandkids with our willingness to participate in the rescue service by giving $1.00 per live puppy born and $5.00 per stud service (when used with their own or outside bitches).

We keep our membership informed by devoting two pages in the Newsletter to our rescue program’s activities. In each issue we try to feature a Rescue Mastiff with an article written by their new family and a “thank you” to everyone who has paid their love tax. With information provided by members we periodically publish a list of “tax payers,” naming the bitch, stud dog, owners and number of puppies in the litter.

Club members in various cities, towns and counties volunteer their time to take messages regarding Mastiffs in need of rescue, verify that the dog is, indeed, a Mastiff and, if possible, board them until a good home can be found. Rescuing a dog is not a one person job, you can never tell how a rescue will unfold-we have rescued dogs in an hour’s time and placed them in pre-checked homes. And, of course, have driven 500 miles to rescue a problem dog that took five months to place in an appropriate home.

The Road to Becoming A.K.C. Sanctioned

As our Club came together and grew, many members wanted us to become part of the American Kennel Club’s network of regional clubs. No other local Mastiff club in the country was recognized by the A.K.C.

Starting in 1985, the Western Mastiff Fanciers began to gather the materials necessary to show the A.K.C. that we were a serious club with a good track record of activity in the breed. Judy Kessler took the responsibility for developing the package of material on the history of Club activity. She did an excellent job. Records of our matches with pictures, the Newsletter, constitution, code of ethics, the cooperative effort at the Cow Palace, and Rescue.

In August of 1986, Bob Goldblatt sent the materials showing the Club’s history and a formal letter seeking approval for sanctioned matches. At first the response from the A.K.C. was very positive and promises were made that the materials would be reviewed promptly, a list of all exceptions and additional items would be sent. When this didn’t occur Bob called the A.K.C. and was promised the Club would get the whole package of requirements and wouldn’t be “strung out.” Being naive, Bob didn’t understand the reference to being “strung out,” but over the next 2 1/2 years he came to learn what was meant.

Trying to get information from the A.K.C. was a frustrating task. No one there would commit to anything. An example was the area in which the Club would operate. At first we were told the area should be within a 50 mile radius of San Francisco. So we wrote that area into our Constitution. After our Constitution was rejected one of the items we were asked to delete was the 50 mile radius. However, one of the terms set when we were finally accepted was an area of operations approximately a 50 mile radius of San Francisco. The A.K.C. also said the Club’s name, Western Mastiff Fanciers, was too broad in scope. We held a contest and the board finally adopted a few names that were submitted to the membership for a vote-Redwood Empire Mastiff Club was the choice of the membership. The A.K.C. accepted the new name.

All the faults that can be ascribed to bureaucracy apply to the A.K.C. Having worked in a traditional government bureaucracy for 10 years, Bob Goldblatt knew that the only way to get something accomplished was through politics. Who do you know? Who owes who a favor? And who would like to have you owe them a favor? Using these tools the Club’s application was freed of the mud bogging it down. Two and a half years of frustration were resolved with the right word to the right person. In the last part of 1989 we finally received A.K.C. recognition.

On the surface the process of becoming sanctioned to put on our own Specialty would seem to be straight forward. Three successful “B” matches and two “A” matches are the minimum requirements. Bad experience being a good teacher we won’t be surprised by obstacles.

Club Goals

In the roughly 13 years this Club has been in existence, it is interesting to note that except for a few years, there has always been an REMC member’s dog either winning or placing high in the National Specialty, regardless of where they are held. Additionally, looking at the records, you’ll also find that consistently REMC members’ dogs have also placed high in the national statistics. Usually several of our members have dogs within the top 10, year after year, which speaks highly for the people here on the West Coast.

As you can see, in dog talk, our Club has come a long way in a very short time. One reason is that we try to give our members what they want. One of the top things they want is camaraderie. We do, for the most part, get along well. We socialize a lot and are very proud of our Newsletter.

Several editors after Judy Kessler, Dee Gensburger and Bob Goldblatt have worked at it. Diane Collings, Judy Severance and our present newsletter editor, Joan Chambart, have meant a great deal to the Club. The Newsletter is an important means of communication with our members. Its quality is always improving, it has grown in volume, members advertise and it has become the life blood of the Club. Our Newsletter has been on a par with that of any regional dog club in the United Sates. The Newsletter is included with your Club membership and is offered by subscription to non-members all over the United States.

What might possibly be the most important fact of our Club is that no one person dominates-no one breeder has any more control over the Club than any other breeder. We’re fortunate to have several highly respected breeders who have made time to be actively involved in the Club. No one person has been an officer for any extended period of time; we work at involving the membership in the governing of the Club and introducing new faces to the Board. We have two matches and a supported show each year and try to find new blood for each event. Using the buddy system, we encourage new members to participate on committees by acting as co-chairs and help them learn the ropes.

A source of great pride for us as a Club is every year at the Golden Gate Kennel Club benched show, the Club as a whole works to decorate benches and set up an area for members of the Redwood Empire Mastiff Club. We also host a table for Mastiff Rescue and Mastiff information. We have been so successful at the Golden Gate Kennel Club show they have asked us to continue with our presentations again this year and have encourage other breed clubs to give similar presentations.

Long standing members have helped our new members to accept and carry on the goals of this Club. Because of the ideas of all, we have managed to do very well in our efforts to rescue Mastiffs in stress-we have placed an incredible amount of dogs. This will continue to be a very high priority.

Having realized our goal to be A.K.C. sanctioned, our hope now is to continue forward on a path that will lead us to holding smaller independent specialty here on the West Coast.

As a Club and individually as breeders our combined goal must be to do the be we can to educate A.K.C. judges about our breed. To let them know that just because a Mastiff doesn’t flash around the ring, it is a sound, good breed and when warranted should be placing in group. Judges must recognize that this lumbering, heavy boned breed should move differently but still be eligible to place in group.

In closing, we would like to encourage other areas to start their own regional clubs. The better the network of regional clubs we have, the stronger our national club will be and the more educated the public will come. It is only through a strong system of regional clubs that we can do a good job protecting our breed and rescuing Mastiffs.

Our future as a Club remains in the hands of the members and, if we continue along the path we are on, this future promises to be bright and rewarding and the Redwood Empire Mastiff Club will go on happily ever after.

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