It is both a heavy burden and a great honor to have been selected from among members to serve on the board of the International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club a the past few years. Even more so to have been notified this week that the board members have elected me as the president of the club. It is a great honor because of the trust that has been placed in me by my peers. It is a great weight because I know how far we have yet to go to bring our breed to the security it deserves.
The unity I see in the club and on its board, gives me great hope for the future. For example, when we held an advisory poll on the studbook-the most significant issue the club has decided on in years, 34 of 35 votes were in agreement. When the board took those results and held a vote, the board decision was unanimous. My own election to the office of president was the same. Im humbled to say that out of a possible 15 voting points from the board I received 14.
I said all that to say this, there is a greater sense of unity, purpose and momentum right now within the breed than there has been in the 25 years I have been associated with Seppalas. And the club intends to harness that momentum for the good of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog.
When I petitioned the previous board members to relaunch the dormant club several years ago, I stated that my goal was to pitch as big a tent as we could without losing what the Seppala is to ambiguity. The two clubs of the 20th century had both addressed the COI in their own ways and then both had closed up shop. In my mind, there was no better way to ensure the future of our breed than to combine those two efforts, rather than leave the division in place. This message of unity seems to have resonated, as the club ranks have grown exponentially.
But we do not seek “unity at all costs.” There are non negotiables. For example, it is the stated purpose of this club to preserve the Seppala Siberian Sleddog as a breed. Not merely as a strain of the larger Siberian Husky pool.
I was asked recently, by a breeder that has publicly stated that the Seppala is “merely a strain”, “Should I bother registering my dogs?”
I answered, “The Continental Kennel Club is the only registry that registers Seppalas as a breed. So if you are an ally of the breed, then there is no question. Yes! But if you only see the Seppala as a strain of the Siberian Husky, I don’t know why you would bother.”
We are on a mission to preserve a breed. Those who say “there are no Seppalas left” only show their ignorance (willful or otherwise) to what a breed is. A breed is pedigree, sure. But it is more than that. It is performance. It is temperament. It is morphology. And it is genetic health.
“But there have been outcrosses in the Seppala to increase genetic health!” You say?
Of course, and we are thankful for the foresight and effort.
Is the Chinook a breed? Of course. Even the AKC show ring now acknowledges them as such. And yet the breed ancestry is far less storied than our own- tracing its origins back only to the beginning of the last century while the Seppala has been distinct for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. The breed stewards of the Chinooks have needed recently to outcross for genetic health as well, and yet it does not take away from the fact that the Chinook is a breed.
Is the noble Irish Wolfhound a breed? No one would deny it and yet the breed savior realized he had too few foundation dogs to save the breed and selectively outcrossed to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction.
Horse and other livestock breeders have understood this healthier approach to purebred husbandry for centuries. Outcrossing for genetic health and then breeding back into the primary stock to ensure to keep breed vitality.
Why would some suggest the Seppala not be given the same fighting chance? Why should the Seppalas in our kennels- all with 93% or higher Seppala pedigree- not be given the same breed recognition as those other breeds with far more admixture in their pedigrees. What we have done is not different from what has been done in countless other breeds. And unlike others, our breed stewards have kept meticulous records of what has been bred and why for the past century. In fact, current genetic research is consistently showing that our breed is generally far “purer” than many of the working Siberian Huskies registered in the American Kennel Club.
If you understand the work the Club has done, and continues to do- in partnership with the Continental Kennel Club- to permanently establish the Seppala as a distinct and genetically healthy breed, then we encourage you to join us.
Finally, let me say that- while offices and titles have been assigned to me and other board members- our mission and operation remains the same. Not only does the board have new blood like Dimitrios Kapoukrandis to invigorate it, but it has members that have as much or more experience with the breed than I do. I have spearheaded many actions over the past years, even without this title. But I have always sought and given heavy weight to the counsel of board members like Tabetha Berge, Zena Thomas, and RJ Williamson, and I will continue to do so.
I want to specifically acknowledge the anchor that Tabitha continues to be to this club. She is a great constant, giving the board its continuity from Willett’s founding board to the present. This club would not be where it is without her efforts. I think I speak for the entire board when I say that her counsel will always hold more than its share of weight in club decisions. And to my dear friend Zena Thomas, who serves as my "walking talking breed pedigree database" and close friend.
In conclusion then, I want to encourage Seppala enthusiasts that have been watching from the outside for a number of years to see if our renewed efforts would be short lived- join us- We are just getting started! To the committee members of various tasks, I plead with you- make reportable progress so that we can keep our momentum. And to the 43 or so club members I say- let us know what your giftings are and let us put you to work. We have so much to do!
Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes