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Dual Registering Seppalas is Unsustainable. J.J. Bragg & Doug Willett were both right. Here's why.

Those who are new to the world of Seppalas are often confused by the fact that, while most Seppala Siberians are considered Siberian Huskies by the American Kennel Club, most Siberian Huskies are not considered Seppalas by the ISSSC, ISA, or the Continental Kennel Club. But it really isn't that complicated once one stops to think on it. While many of Leonhard Seppalas dogs also serve as foundation stock for the mainstream Siberian Husky, Leonhard Seppala, Wheeler, Shearer, Mcfaul, Bragg, Willet and other breeders, right up to the present, have kept the Seppala line separate from the mainstream of the mainstream and racing Siberian Husky. AKC Siberians have Seppalas in their lines, but other lines in them as well. Not only did a dog need to be descended from these original Seppalas to be considered a Seppala by these stewards of the breed, but also had to be from harness-proven Seppala parents. Without the additional “harness-proven” requirement on being a Seppala, the breed would likely spiral into the same pitfall that is the demise of so many working dogs. Show dogs bred for form rather than for function, generation after generation, produces a dog that looks the part, but hasnt the work ethic or genetic drive for the original work intended for the breed. “All bark and no bite” as the old saying goes. Sighthounds like Irish Wolfhounds, that no lurchers hunt with because they cannot do the job. Shepherd breeds that can not herd. Sled dog breeds (I will not name them to avoid an unnecessary flame war) that can no longer perform well in harness. All after only a few generations of breeding by pet or show owners that did not “field-test” their dogs. This is one of the great things about the International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club’s partnership with the Continental Kennel Club as the official breed registry. With the CKC we can add to the pedigree requirements, a work performance requirement. All that said, many Seppala kennels have wanted to have their cake and eat it too by dual registering their litters- myself included. I am chiefest amongst such sinners. There has been good reason for it.

Some do it to boost the sale value of their Seppalas. A double set of papers just looks good to a prospecive buyer. But I can speak for myself when I say that the biggest reason for us has been our partnership with Seppala Kennels in Europe- many of which are parts of mushing clubs that only allow purebreds to race, clubs that only acknowledge the broader Siberian Husky. For those European kennels, it has been good to continue with AKC registration for as long as possible, in order to ensure they could keep getting Seppalas from the USA for breeding purposes. Despite those good intentions, both of the Seppala “breed saviors” of the last generation warned against the danger of keeping the Seppala under the umbrella of the Siberian Husky in the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs. In the second half of the last century, both Jeffrey Bragg in Canada, and Doug Willet in the USA, stopped dual registering their Seppalas as Siberian Huskies. Both strongly urged their followers to do the same. Both lost supporters as a result of their stands on this issue.

Why did they warn against dual registration? For a few very good reasons. Firstly, so long as we continue registering our Seppalas as Siberians, the Seppala will never be seen as the unique breed that is by the general public- or by pure-bred sled dog clubs. Dual registration has fueled the continual debates over what a Seppala is, and whether or not the Seppala is a breed in it’s own right. But more importantly, both these visionaries knew that if we kept dual registering our dogs, we would avoid making the painful but necessary outcrosses needed to address the genetic bottleneck in our breed. Founder Effects, Coefficient of Inbreeding, etc. were very real concerns to them both. Those concerns can no longer be ignored. Despite the division between the two men, they had far more in common than what divided them, and us. While both disagreed with the other about which outcrosses should be used, they both agreed that outcrosses must be used. Both men underwent the herculean tasks of selecting suitable outcrosses and breeding the subsequent generations back into the Seppala pool to deepen the genetic health of the Seppala breed. This essential labor could not have been done under the umbrellas of the American or Canadian Kennel Clubs. And so they both took the leap and left the mainstream registries for the future good of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog.

Seppalas passed from one generation to another (Willet left, McFaul, right). Will our generation ensure the legacy or let it die?

We find ourselves, now, at a crossroads. A crossroad filled with potential and promise, or demise. If we continue insisting on dual registering our Seppalas, we will see the future of the Seppala continue to decline- both in health and in its uniqueness. But there is good news. The hard work of outcrossing and breeding back for generations has already been done. And we can all stand to benefit from the labors of our predecessors. By simply embracing the outcrosses already done, and bringing them together in one breeding pool, we can see a healthy working Seppala long into the future. We could soon have enough genetic diversity to close the studbooks for the foreseeable future. Then, we could add a stud or two to the stud book every so many decades to keep the breed healthy, as the breed club sees fit. The work is done. It only remains for us to put the pieces together and see the fruition of the seeds our predecessors have sown. But the Seppala cannot enjoy the fruit of this labor so long as we insist on keeping the Seppala under the AKC umbrella. Thankfully, we have a breed registry- the Continental Kennel Club- that understands the Seppala cause, that has worked with the breed for decades, and has set parameters wherein we can see this accomplished. For these reasons, Poland Spring Seppalas has decided to lead by example. Last year, we acquired a Seppala stud from Bragg’s outcross lines at some expense. Since Bragg’s Siberian imports were not with Canadian Kennel Club Siberians, any pups sired from these outcrosses would not be eligible for registration with the American Kennel Club. I have reached out to others, with both lines, and talks seem promising, but by no means sure. I have talked to some long time Seppala mushers who have siad, “Yes, this must be done. But our kennel lines and numbers are too well established to take that on here. It needs to be done by the next generation of Seppala kennels."

We will no longer let AKC registration be a factor in determining what dogs are bred here at Poland Spring Kennels. We are not breeding Siberian Huskies. We are breeding Seppalas. If the breedings permit it, we will continue dual registration for the benefit of our Seppala friends abroad. But the only way to reunite the breed from its splinter, is to breed all Seppalas back together, which we can do with confidence within the Continental Kennel Club. We are excited about the addition of Poland Spring's Shiro of Snowy Owl to our kennel, to represent the labours of Jeffrey Bragg. He is 8 years old, but shows no sign of slowing. He is tireless in the traces. He will eat whatever we put in front of him (poor eating habits seem to have become more normal in the Seppala breed in recent years) and keeps weight on well. An easy-keeper, as we southerners would say of our horses. We look forward to having our first litter from him. But he is only one dog. We are only one kennel.

Jonathan Hayes with "Shiro the Hero" (Poland Spring's Shiro of Snowy Owl).

One kennel cannot undertake the work of the next era of the Seppala alone. It will take some generations of taking the American and Canadian lines and judiciously bringing them back together. I can’t do this alone.

So this is my call to action. Will you help? We cannot let the efforts of our predecessors be in vain. I think the greatest compliment we can pay to those who have wrestled with preserving our breed for the past 100 years, is to bring the Seppalas back together again under one big umbrella and then to be intentional with breeding them back together. I am honored to serve on the board of the ISSSC. But I cannot speak for the club or its members. This is my vision for the vibrant future of the Seppala Siberian Sleddog. Will you help?

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