Meet the Breed: Hello, Sunshine

The cheery Sealyham Terrier bursts at the seams with a love for life and devotion to its owners.

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Sealyham Terrier owners adore their dogs. They describe the breed’s strong personality, high intelligence, sense of humor, willingness to please, cheerfulness and devotion to their families. Artist Judith Jones of Ogden, Utah, who has owned Sealyhams for more than 25 years, says she “loves their loyalty, their joy at being alive.” So why is this attractive terrier in very real danger of disappearing?

The Sealyham Terrier was extremely popular in the 1920s and ’30s in Great Britain; hundreds were registered each year. But the Sealyham is now on the Kennel Club’s native vulnerable breeds list in the United Kingdom. With only 43 dogs registered in 2008, it’s the most endangered British breed. The American Kennel Club registered 56 Sealyhams last year, and the breed was ranked 152 out of 158 AKC-recognized breeds. Various reasons have been put forth to explain this decline in popularity; a combination of them may explain the breed’s shrinking numbers.

Sharon Yard, president of the American Sealyham Terrier Club, partly blames recent bans on docking in many European countries. Some people dislike the look of a terrier with a full-length tail that has been traditionally docked in the past, even for those terriers that are primarily pets.

Owners of working terriers customarily dock their dogs’ tails so they can pull the dog out of a burrow after it has gone to ground in pursuit of its quarry. When not docked, the end of the full-length tail narrows, and is not as sturdy and strong as the part closest to the body. “If you tried pulling on [the full-length tail], you would undoubtedly injure the dog badly,” Yard says. Further, “the [full-length] tail is as long as the dog, and drags in the dirt and weeds and burrs,” she says.

Lois Miller, an obedience instructor, whose Sealyham Terrier Jennie excels in obedience and rally competitions, believes the number of Sealyhams is so low because “[potential dog owners] don’t ever see them. It’s a vicious cycle: you can’t want something you never see,” she says.

Sally Sweatt, who was on the board of the American Humane Association and was an honorary board member of the Delta Society, has owned Sealyhams for more than 30 years. She says, “not enough people are breeding them and not enough people know about [them].”

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