Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs or Seppala line Siberian Huskies?
Any research into the history of the Siberian Husky always throws up the name Leonhard Seppala. Many years on, his name is still strongly connected with these dogs. However, in his day, Seppala didn't register many of his dogs with the AKC and when the official stud book was closed in the 1930s, there were but a handful of his dogs included.
The fact that the offspring of such a small number of dogs continues to have an impact and attract attention and devotion speaks highly of the quality of the dogs.
There have been scares in the intervening years, genetic bottlenecks and the genuine possibility that bloodline could have disappeared - through dilution into the broader Siberian husky gene pool coupled with an apparent apathy towards a cohesive breeding plan. The fact that it is still possible in the 21st Century to buy a "pure" Seppala line pup is almost entirely due to the efforts and stubbornness of 2 men. Doug Willett and J Jeffrey Bragg.
Anyone who has an interest in the Seppala bloodline knows these names, almost as much a part of the Sepp name as Leonhard himself. However, and sadly, in my view, these 2 greats have vastly differing views on where the future lies for these wonderful dogs.
In 1997, the Seppala Siberian Sled Dog (SSSD) was given formal and legal identification as a rare breed in Canada - founded by JJ Bragg. These dogs were original American/Canadian Kennel Club registered Markovo Seppalas combined with an imported male from Siberia and their offspring. JJ dispensed with all other registration schemes and continues to breed and promote his vision. Further dogs from Siberia were acquired via Ramon Rojas and the Seppala Siberian Sled Dog Project continues to flourish.
"The goal of the SEPPALA SIBERIAN SLEDDOG PROJECT is to preserve the historic Leonhard Seppala sleddog as it came to us in its traditional form through the McFaul/Shearer bloodline and to re-establish the closest possible approach to the original Siberian Sleddogs imported into Alaska from eastern Siberia from 1908 to 1930. We emphasise sleddog versatility, aiming to provide a superior and dependable working sleddog breed, not just for dogsled racing, but for a broad range of sleddog and winter sport purposes. "
In 2010 JJ closed the project as an ongoing rare breed developmental programme but continues to operate Seppala Kennels. He sold quite a few dogs to supporting kennels, in a manner similar to the Markovo dispersal 25 years previously.
Despite the cessation of the Canadian Dept of Agriculture's overseeing of the "evolving breed" status, the kennels who acquired dogs from Seppala Kennels have continued to follow the guidelines of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog Project and have stayed true to its aims. Without an organised Registry or body, it could be considered quite indicative of the commitment of those kennels to the history and ideals of the SSSDs. At least one kennel has imported dogs directly from Chukotka to help broaden the genepool.
Doug Willett started with his Seppala dogs and his now famous Sepp-Alta kennel in 1973 and he has been racing successfully since then. His results with a purebred team stand up to any examination and some of his outstanding dogs were very well known throughout the racing world. Doug pursued an active breeding policy and was always trying to improve the line. Success attracts attention and there were several keen mushers who came to believe in the quality of these Seppala line dogs. Their attributes go way beyond work ethics and abilities - sound feet, fantastic temperaments and a general love of life and people make these dogs easy to appreciate.
In 2002, Doug along with Bob Davis, Lanette Kimball and several others founded the International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club with breed status and registrations recorded with the Continental Kennel Club. Promoted as a way forward for all those interested in the bloodline, the ISSSC has now stipulated that :The purpose of the Club is the preservation and promotion of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog as a unique breed, separate and apart from all other breeds. Club members are expected to fully support and uphold this purpose and to work toward the representation of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog as a Seppala Siberian Sleddog, and not by any other breed name." (ISSSC Member Code of Ethics.)
By the end of that decade, the 3 biggest kennels involved in the formation of the ISSSC, (Sepp-Alta, Tay Marr and Sepp-Lok) had either given up,retired or greatly reduced their kennels.
There has been a trend recently for dogs that were registered with the ConKC as Seppala Siberian Sleddogs to be reregistered as Siberian Huskies either with the ConKC or the AKC. Which leaves the strange situation of people calling their dogs Seppala Siberian Sleddogs but having them registered as Siberian Huskies.
And this brings us to the third group of Seppala line enthusiasts - those who have remained within the boundaries of the Kennel Clubs (American/Canadian/UK etc).
A pool of dogs that may well yet suffer the fate that was envisaged in the 60s - 80s of being diluted by the broader Siberian Husky. Careful breeding and planning will be necessary to ensure that a viable and genetically diverse future lies ahead for those in this third group. With the AKC accepting offspring of dogs who left the Registry a decade ago, the Seppala line Siberian Husky may stave off assimilation for a while yet.