Copyright ©2018 by J. Jeffrey Bragg
THE GOAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL SEPPALA ASSOCIATION is the preservation, protection and advancement of historic sleddog breeds and bloodlines. Today’s mainstream AKC/CKC northern breeds such as the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute hardly deserve the title of sleddogs, apart from tiny minority populations within those breeds. They do not adequately represent the proud legacy of the working sleddogs who saved lives and provided daily winter transport in polar, arctic and subarctic regions of the world a century or more ago. Today, certain populations still survive that have always been bred as sleddogs and continue to serve that purpose, rather than the more common purposes of show dogs or household pets. The International Seppala Association provides support and services for sleddog groups of that kind.
Two famous dog drivers who each founded a breed
LEONHARD SEPPALA became famous in Alaska as an all-time great dog driver of unparalleled ability in the handling and training of sleddogs. His Siberian dogs were the basis for his domination of the Nome Sweepstakes in the last three years of its existence. He later won fame throughout the USA for his crucial role in the dogsled delivery of antiserum in the 1925 Nome diphtheria epidemic. Seppala worked with and popularised the Siberian sleddog in Alaska from 1914 until 1926. Following the Nome Serum Run, Seppala toured the U.S. with his dogs. His tour finished in Poland Spring, Maine, where he ran a historic challenge race with Arthur Walden. In that race he met Elizabeth Ricker, with whom he began a partnership breeding Siberian dogs in Poland Spring.
ARTHUR WALDEN had driven dogs in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush; later he became famous for his exploits with his large tawny leader, The Great Chinook. Walden and his leader, together with 15 of Chinook’s sons, hauled record loads of freight over the antarctic barrier ice during the offloading of Byrd Antarctic Expedition I flag ship to base camp Little America. Chinook himself disappeared in the Antarctic night on his twelfth birthday and was never found.
WALDEN HOSTED SEPPALA and his Siberian dog team at his home in Wonalancet Farm and Chinook Kennels in Tamworth, New Hampshire, in the winter of 1926-27, when both men were actively breeding and racing their sled dogs for recreation, sport, and publicity. The challenge race at Poland Spring was a turning point in both their careers; Walden’s Chinooks were no match for Seppala’s Siberians that fateful day. Walden’s racing career ended there; he went on to gain fame for his dogs on the Byrd Expedition, while Seppala pursued a successful race circuit in New England and Canada during the same period, gaining widespread renown for his “Seppala Siberians.”
Historic legacy sleddog breeds
THE SEPPALA SIBERIAN SLEDDOG is the direct descendant of Seppala’s dogs from Alaska. A new importation of dogs from Siberia by the Seppala/Ricker kennel, the last to come out of Siberia before the Iron Curtain descended, contained two crucial brothers, “Kree Vanka” and “Tserko,” who were bred to Sepp’s bitches from Alaska. Core stock from Poland Spring, including the two Siberia import studs, went to Harry Wheeler in Canada in 1931. The Wheeler stock bred from those males and Poland Spring bitches became the basis for the Seppala Siberians that were well-known and respected throughout New England and eastern Canada in the 1930s and 1940s. The core bloodline passed from Wheeler through the kennels of William Shearer and J. D. McFaul during the 1950s. Then in 1963 McFaul retired without a successor kennel, and the bloodline came perilously near extinction. It was rescued in the 1970s through the breeding of Markovo and Seppineau Kennels, at the cost of a genetic bottleneck event. The close of the twentieth century saw great controversy, misunderstanding and confusion concerning Seppalas, along with misguided cross-straining with mainstream Siberian Huskies for speed racing purposes. The primary motive for foundation of the International Seppala Association was the preservation of the true Seppala strain from assimilation into the Siberian Husky showdog breed through continued cross-straining, along with the protection of its identity as a versatile multipurpose sleddog breed.
THE CHINOOK DOG is represented today by descendants of three progeny of Walden’s famous lead dog, Jock (m), Hootchinoo (m) and Zembla (f), all that were left after the Byrd Expedition and the takeover of Chinook Kennels by Milton and Eva B. Seeley. The breed is genetically diverse from recent outcrosses following a rescue and second bottleneck event in 1981 when the Perry Greene kennel closed. Like the Seppala sleddog, the Chinook has had genetic setbacks. Like the Seppala, it has endured controversy and division among its breeders. Like the Seppala, it needs to preserve its purpose and identity as a versatile working sleddog breed.
NEW SIBERIAN IMPORT STOCK became available once more in the wake of the breakup of the USSR in 1989. One such dog of classic Siberian type was obtained for use in the genetic renewal of the Seppala Siberian. Today dogs from Yakutia and Kamchatka are again available in small numbers. Traditional European and North American dog registries are not always prepared fully to serve the needs of these regional dog breeds. These sleddog breeds, older than any in North America, are at continued risk in Russia and elsewhere. The International Seppala Association welcomes them and looks forward to working closely with importers and breeders of autochthonous Siberian dogs to assure their continued survival and to meet their record-keeping needs and special requirements.
You can help historic sleddog breeds to survive
Dedicated dog drivers and sleddog fanciers can help in the task of preserving, protecting and advancing these and other historic legacy sleddog breeds — through RESPONSIBLE BREEDING, training and ownership, through helping make dog driving an ecologically and economically SUSTAINABLE SPORT, through accepting their share in the duties of HISTORIC BREED SURVIVAL, and through the recognition that RECREATIONAL MUSHING is vital to such survival. They can help also through membership in the International Seppala Association, which stands for historic sleddog breeds as such, rather than primarily for racing. We see all legacy sleddog populations as something more than just a means of ego-gratification through athletic competition. These breeds exist in their own right and for their own sake, quite apart from anyone’s notions about athletic elitism and sleddog excellence.