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Image: Red Tibetan Mastiff Dog Hong Dong maybe most expensive Dog in the World
Ren Jf  /  EPA
Eleven-month-old red Tibetan mastiff Hong Dong ("Big Splash") was bought by an unidentified coal baron for 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) and was handed to his new owner on March 12 in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao. Local media said the dog may be the most expensive in the world.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 3/17/2011 10:27:25 AM ET 2011-03-17T14:27:25

Genghis Khan had one, legend says. So did the Buddha.

And now, the prized red Tibetan mastiff, thought to be one of the world’s oldest and most venerable breeds, has another distinction: One of the massive, fluffy dogs has become the most expensive dog ever sold.

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An 11-month old pup named Big Splash (“Hong Dong” in Chinese) recently sold in the Chinese city of Qingdao for 10 million yuan — about $1.5 million in U.S. dollars.

The 3-foot-tall, 180-pound dog is one of a breed that has been around since time immemorial. Tibetan mastiffs are said to have guarded nomad camps and monasteries, and are rarely seen outside of Tibet.

Video: King-sized canines are China’s top dogs (on this page)

Over the past several years, they have become status symbols among China’s growing wealthy classes, driving up their price from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands, according to the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper.

Related: Popularity, price of Tibetan mastiffs grow with China’s affluence

But even among that rarified class of canines, Big Splash stands alone.

Raised on a diet of beef, chicken, abalone and sea cucumber, “he is a perfect specimen,” his breeder, identified only as Mr. Lou, told the British newspaper. “He has excellent genes and will be a good breeding dog. When I started in this business, 10 years ago, I never thought we would see such a price.”

Lou declined to identify Big Splash’s new owner, other than to say that he is a multimillionaire who made his fortune in coal. And given the rising popularity of the breed, it may be that the owner can make some of his investment back by offering the dog’s services at stud. Some breeders are willing to pay as much as $100,000 to get a dipper out of Big Splash’s gene pool.


Video: Tibetan mastiff is China's top dog (on this page)

Big Splash takes the title of the World’s Most Expensive Dog away from another Tibetan mastiff, Yangtze River Number Two, who sold for 4 million yuan in 2009. In an example of what some say is the excess exhibited among China’s new rich, Yangtze River Number Two was chauffeured to its new owner in a motorcade that included 30 limousines.

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Video: King-sized canines are China’s top dogs

  1. Transcript of: King-sized canines are China’s top dogs

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Well, tiny, purse-sized dogs may be popular here in the US, but a much bigger breed may soon be all the rage. NBC 's Adrienne Mong explains.

    ADRIENNE MONG reporting: It's a lion, it's a bear. No, it's a Tibetan mastiff , to be precise, the latest rich man's accessory in China . `They're so loyal,' says businessman Cai Li , `and fierce.' Cai and his wife prize these canine traits so much that last year they claim to have paid $600,000 for a dog named Yangtze River Number Two , a purebred, delivered in style by a fleet of Mercedes . Such is the life of a privileged pup in the new China .

    MONG:

    Mr. CAI LI:

    MONG: This certificate is actually what's worth money because it verifies the bloodline for the dog. Weighing up to 180 pounds, the mastiff is also valued for its origins, from the former Himalayan kingdom 12,000 feet above sea level on the Tibetan plateau . ` In China , people think of the Tibetan mastiff as a holy animal, a blessing to their health and security,' says Wen Li , who helps to organize dog fairs across the country, where mastiffs come in all shapes and sizes, judged for their physical traits, the thickness of their fur, and the shape of the mouth and jaw. And demand has skyrocketed in recent years, with prices jumping 500 percent a year and dog fairs like this taking place in cities across China during the show season, boosting the fortunes of men like Zhao Yanjun , once a chicken farmer, now a breeder of prize-winning mastiffs. `The beginning I liked them because I like big dogs ,' said Zhao . `Then I realized I could make a lot of money from them, and now I'm really in love with them.' So this two-year-old Tibetan mastiff is his prized breed and he will set you back half a million dollars.

    I don't know, are you worth it? Some people don't think so.

    Mr. FAN XING (International Center for Veterinary Services): The whole trend is rich people buying the dog. You know, it doesn't matter you're pet lovers. You want to look at dog or live with dog, you just buy the dog and say, `I got a Tibet mastiff.'

    MONG: But owners like Cai Li argue otherwise. `It's very expensive to own a Tibetan mastiff ,' he says. `You have to love the dog to want to spend that kind of money.' A status symbol for those smitten by puppy love . For TODAY, Adrienne Mong, NBC News, Tianjin, China .

    VIEIRA: Lisa Peterson is the spokesperson for the American Kennel Club , and she has brought along Dolma and Baby Gia . Good morning.

    Ms. LISA PETERSON: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: Gia 's just a puppy. Matt and I both had the first same question. What is with these collars?

    Ms. PETERSON: These are actually the historical kekhors, which are collars to protect them from attacks from snow leopards and wolves in the Tibetan mountains.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Oh.

    Ms. PETERSON: Yeah.

    LAUER: So -- but now in this country, they are not that expensive, correct?

    VIEIRA: Right.

    Ms. PETERSON: That's correct. In the United States they're not as rare or valuable. Approximately 800 to $3500 for a purebred puppy, just like any breed really.

    VIEIRA: And are they a good family dog ?

    Ms. PETERSON: They are a good family dog . They're a guardian breed. They will protect their loved ones and their family and their property. But they are a little aloof and reserved with strangers because of their nature.

    VIEIRA: Well, this one wasn't.

    LAUER: Do you think -- yeah, he was good.

    VIEIRA: Gia was giving me some kisses, some loving.

    LAUER: You think -- are you thinking what I'm thinking?

    VIEIRA: You want one?

    LAUER: We export these to China , $2,000 a dog, we sell 1.3 billion of them. We are done. We're set.

    VIEIRA: We got money coming in. Oh.

    LAUER: There you go. They're really, really sweet dogs.

    VIEIRA: They are gorgeous, yeah.

    Ms. PETERSON: They are highly intelligent, but they do need proper socialization because they are a guardian breed.

Explainer: A $15,000 clump of hair? Silliest splurges of all time

  • Image: $175 burger
    Brendan Mcdermid  /  Reuters

    How much would you pay for a clump of Elvis Presley's hair? What exactly is on a $175 burger? And what goes into a $33,000 mattress? It turns out that plenty of items are tailored just for the ultra-wealthy and well-heeled — proving that when it comes to money, some people want to use it and lose it.

    Here are 12 examples of splurges that are so silly, so decadent and so unexpected that they will a) blow your mind and b) make you happy that the economy tanked and frugal is the "new normal."

  • The $15,000 hair clump

    Image: Elvis' clump of hair
    TODAY

    Yes, Elvis Presley was the King. But seriously, now: How much is a clump of hair from his head worth?

    A lot of Benjamins, apparently. Even though it looks like the aftermath of a home improvement project involving Drano, the hairball pictured here sold for $15,000 at a Chicago auction house in October 2009. The locks are thought to have been clipped when Elvis joined the Army in 1958.

    In addition to dropping $15,000 on the hair clump, the purchaser also had to pony up $3,300 in auction house fees.

    Related: Elvis' hair sells for $15K at auction

  • The $33,000 mattress

    Image: Inside view of expensive mattress
    E.S. Kluft & Co.

    Sure, a mattress is important. You use it every single day, and if it's uncomfortable, life can be miserable. But — BUT! — would you spend $33,000 on one? You can, thanks to E.S. Kluft & Co., makers of the most expensive American-made mattress set money can buy.

    The fit-for-a-king mattress contains "10 layers and more than 10 pounds of cashmere, mohair, silk and New Zealand wool that has been washed, dried and crimped," according to the Wall Street Journal.

    If the $33,000 price tag doesn't alarm you, just wait: Kluft has pans to start selling a $44,000 mattress later in 2010.

    Related: Could a mattress ever be worth $33K? You decide!

  • The $1,000 pizza

    Image: $1,000 pizza
    TODAY

    Mama mia! A thousand bucks for a 12-inch pizza pie? You betcha, says New York restaurateur Nino Selimaj. He dreamed up a thin-crust pizza that comes loaded with six kinds of caviar and lobster tail.

    "The idea came because I've been 29 years in this city," Selimaj told TODAY in 2007. "It's a great city, maybe the greatest city on Earth. I believe we deserve something to show ... I wanted to be different."

    At the time of the TODAY interview, he estimated his production costs to be about $720 per pizza. He's still serving up the pies today at his restaurant, Nino's Bellissima, on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

    Related: Mama mia! That's an expensive pizza!

  • The $582,000 dog

    Image: Chinese woman with dog
    AFP - Getty Images

    Most of us would be hard-pressed to put a price tag on our beloved pets — but this price tag was such a whopper that it understandably made headlines in September 2009. That's when a young Chinese millionaire known only as Ms. Wang forked over $582,000 for a dog — and then had the pup picked up at the airport by a motorcade of 30 black Mercedes-Benz cars.

    The dog, an 18-month-old Tibetan Mastiff named Yangtze River Number Two, belongs to a breed that is prized in China for its guarding skills. "Gold has a price, but this Tibetan Mastiff doesn't," the mysterious millionaire told Chinese publications.

    Actually, Ms. Wang, he does: Tibetan Mastiffs usually sell for about $2,000 in the West.

    Related: The world's most expensive dog cost $582K

  • The $1 million cow

    Her life resembles that of most ordinary cows: Producing milk, having babies, staring off peacefully into the distance. But what makes a lovely red bovine named Apple stand out is her price tag: At $1 million, she just might be the most expensive cow ever sold in United States.

    It may have been a classic case of auction fever when a group of partners from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin placed the winning bid for Apple at a Connecticut auction in July 2008. The bidding began at $200,000.

    Observers said the hefty sum was justified because Apple's genes, breeding potential and rare red color made her "very marketable."

    Related: Holy cow! Rare red bovine sold for $1M

  • The $9,150 toothpick

    Image: Charles Dickens' toothpick
    AP

    Save your toothpicks, everyone — if you ever become famous, you could make your grandchildren rich. As evidence, consider Exhibit A: An ivory and gold toothpick once owned by Charles Dickens that just sold at a New York City auction for $9,150.

    In case you're wondering whether the British writer really used the toothpick — (and secretly hoping that maybe he didn't) — an authentication letter from sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth says Dickens put the toothpick to use "when travelling and on his last visit to America."

    Ewwww!

    Related: Charles Dickens' toothpick sold for $9,150

  • The $175 burger

    Image: $175 burger
    Brendan Mcdermid  /  Reuters

    An absolute extravagance at a diner where a standard hamburger sells for $4.50, this $175 hamburger has been characterized as "a work of art."

    That's how Heather Tierney, co-owner of the Wall Street Burger Shoppe in Manhattan, described the burger, which is made of Kobe beef and comes with foie gras, black truffles and Gruyere cheese along with ... drum roll ... flakes of real gold.

    Tierney said the burger is a hit with Wall Street folks who like to show off to their friends for fun. (Oh please don't tell us you showed off with bailout money!)

  • The $25,000 cupcake car

    Image: Cupcake cars
    Photographer: Philip Chudy Www,p  /  Neiman Marcus

    So if you go out and spend $25,000 on a car, you might want it to travel faster than 7 mph — unless, of course, you're in the market for a cupcake car. Yes, you read that right: A cupcake car.

    Courtesy of Neiman Marcus, the luxury retailer that knows just how to captivate our imaginations with decadent gifts, the cupcake car can be customized to your unique tastes and can reach a maximum speed of 7 mph with its 24-volt electric motor.

    The cupcake car began as a cooperative art project at Burning Man. (And we promise not to insert any gratuitous jokes here about what the artists may have been smoking.)

    Slideshow: World's most extravagant gifts

  • The $100,000 book

    Image: $100,000 book
    Bebeto Matthews  /  AP

    Talk about a luxury gift idea. How about a 62-pound book — bound in white marble and red velvet — that is lovingly made by hand in Italy and that depicts the life and work of Michelangelo? Yowza!

    More than 20 copies of "Michelangelo: La Dotta Mano" — valued at more than $100,000 each — had been sold as of November 2008. That's when the book made headlines as it arrived at the New York Public Library. (That copy was donated, by the way.)

    Six long months are required to make each extravagant book — a detail that contributes to its hefty price tag. On the upside, though, Amazon.com offers free shipping on most book purchases over $25. (Cha-ching!)

    Related: Need a luxury gift? Try a $100K book

  • The $200,000 private spaceship flight

    Image: Inside the Virgin Galactic
    Daniel Berehulak  /  Getty Images

    OK, so who doesn't want to travel on a spaceship? The thing is, unless you're an astronaut for NASA, you probably won't get that privilege unless you've got lots and lots of cash.

    So far, about 300 private individuals have lined up to take a flight on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo as soon as passenger travel begins on the spaceship in 2011 or 2012. They've plunked down a total of $40 million in deposits to secure the opportunity.

    A 2.5-hour trip on SpaceShipTwo is supposed to cost $200,000. According to msnbc.com science writer Alan Boyle, "SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to the edge of outer space, past the 100-kilometer (62-mile) altitude mark. The flight profile would provide about five minutes of weightlessness, a commanding view of a curving Earth below the black sky of space, and the world's highest roller-coaster ride going up and coming down."

    Five minutes? That's it?? C'mon, Virgin — it's not too hard to figure out how to achieve that floating effect right here on Earth with the right combination of drinks.

    Related: Cosmic Log: Spaceship debut causes chills

  • The $1 million sword

    Image: Glass sword
    BusinessWeek

    Dubbed the "Glassic Katana," this $1 million glass sword can't kill anybody — and it may not even do such a great job slicing up a loaf of bread. What it does have going for it, though, is 70 carats of flawless rubies and diamonds. BusinessWeek reports that glass artist Monique Schloss spent more than six months crafting the sword by hand.

    The sword, which will go up for auction through Bonhams New York in January 2010, was among the extravagant items featured in Amsterdam at the ultra-decadent Millionaire Fair — an event that thumbs its nose at that silly ol' Great Recession. After all, if you're still staggeringly wealthy, where else are you supposed to learn about $1 million swords?

    Related: Luxury items for sale at the Millionaire Fair

  • Your own butler: Priceless!

    Image: Butlers
    Chris Schotanus  /  BusinessWeek

    Think of him as an executive assistant who's really good at ironing. And if you're Batman, he can totally help you stay organized as you juggle a crazy, late-night crime-fighting schedule.

    Yet another excessive option held out to the ultra-rich at the Millionaire Fair in Amsterdam was — you guessed it — butler services. Apparently the International Butler Academy does a smoking good job of training butlers to welcome guests, clean, iron, pour wine and manage a staff. (Manage a staff?? Wow.) So for a price that varies according to your needs, you could have your very own Jeeves.

    Related: Super rich at luxury fair ask, 'What recession?'

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