SSSD Markovo Banner
The Markovo Kennels Rescue Project: 1969 - 1975
Copyright © 2003 J. Jeffrey Bragg

Ditko of Seppala standing 1970 ph.
Ditko of Seppala at Pefferlaw, ON, 1 June 1970
(Born 10 February 1959, by Toto of Seppala ex Zaza of Seppala)
Photo courtesy Elsie Chadwick, Siberian Husky Archives

Forty years ago . . .

WITHOUT QUESTION the most crucial period for the pure Seppala Siberian was the twelve years from the closing of the McFaul Seppala Kennels until the dispersal of the young stock bred at Markovo Kennels. This was the period when Seppala strain might well have been lost forever in its pure form; it was, in fact, a very close brush with extinction for Seppalas.
     The major breeders of Seppalas, those who carried on after Leonhard Seppala returned to Alaska in 1932, were always at great pains to breed only the pure stock that went back to the Poland Spring kennel, or to Sepp's breeding in Alaska, or to his last Siberia imports in 1930. Other Siberians were still around, including those from the Cooney, Johnson and Dufresne bloodlines, all out of Alaska. More importantly, there was stock from Eva B. Seeley's Chinook Kennels in Wonalancet, New Hampshire. But Harry Wheeler, Alec and Charlie Belford, William L. Shearer III and (after 1950) J. D. McFaul, all refused to make use of these sources. Seppala strain over the years developed its own main trunk of breeding lines that were entirely separate from the Seeley, Demidoff, Lombard, Bowles and other New England kennels, and from the emerging show-dog bloodlines that began to resemble the original Siberian dogs less and less as the show ring made its influence felt. In truth, Seppala strain had existed as a breed unto itself. But it was never great in numbers; the major breeders kept it very expensive and culled surplus females. Its existence depended upon a small cadre of dedicated breeders.

BY 1970 THE LAST surviving McFaul dogs were seven years old or more. J. Malcolm McDougall had by then ceased to breed Siberians and was running mostly Alaskans on his team. So was Charlie Belford and anyone else who wanted to be seriously competitive in major dogsled races. Over the years races had gotten shorter and faster. Trails were much better groomed, lightweight nylon harness was in general use and plastic runner surfaces were beginning to appear, replacing steel shoes. The Siberian Husky had come into great disrepute in serious sleddog racing circles for a variety of reasons.
     For one thing, the volume of show and pet breeding had totally swamped the racing bloodlines. Prior to 1950, little distinction between show and racing strains had really existed; the same bloodlines and often the same dogs were both shown and raced successfully, indeed, a number of Wheeler and McFaul dogs were shown to their Championships. But by 1970 the distinction was fully drawn and the show/pet stock was in the vast majority. The show-dogs were bred to suit a new generation of non-specialist all-breed judges, who knew that a dog had to be big, heavy-set, large-boned and underangulated in order to pull a sled. Racers who took their prized lead dog into the show ring were often told, "your dog just doesn't look like it could pull a sled"! Disgusted by the new situation, serious sleddog racers abandoned the Siberian in droves, writing the breed off as a hopeless case.
     The desertion of the Seppala Siberian by people like McDougall, Belford, Lombard and Bryar, together with widespread lack of interest in maintaining the breeding population of the strain during the seven years following McFaul's retirement, brought about the absolute nadir of the Seppala Siberian. Deserted on all sides, abandoned and aging, Seppala dogs were a figure of ridicule at the time. The show people called them "ugly -- dirty faces -- mismarked" and the racers simply jeered "too slow". To express an interest in Seppalas was to be laughed at from all sides.

Ditko of Seppala

IN THE SUMMER of 1968 J. Jeffrey Bragg had been in Canada for exactly one year, and it had taken me no longer than that to acquire a pair of show-pet-stock Siberian Huskies and a novice's enthusiastic interest in the breed. My two pets were well on their way to their show-ring Championships, we had bred a couple of litters, I belonged to a breed club, subscribed to "Northern Dog News" -- and was puzzled by the obvious difference between the show Siberians and the dogs in old photographs of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes teams. John Johnson's KOLYMA, Leonhard Seppala's SCOTTY and TOGO -- they were so different from my dogs and the others I saw in the ring.

     A professional handler and old-timer Malamute breeder, Lorna Jackson (who had had M'Loot strain Mals, not Seeleys), urged me to visit Mrs. Bunty Goudreau in Chelmsford, ON. My wife Mary and I drove up past North Bay to the Sudbury area and found Snow Ridge Kennels on a back road. I first saw DITKO OF SEPPALA tied in the bush beside Bunty Goudreau's log cabin, a 48-pound, plush-coated, reddish-brown, blue-eyed male. Several of his progeny were there, some of them dark-faced, almost without white facial markings; they were small, compact, well-angulated and totally unlike any Siberians I had seen previously -- except perhaps for those in the Alaska photos from the dawn of the breed! When I mentioned the resemblance to Bunty, I was told that she had been given DITKO by her mother Peg Nansen (formerly Elizabeth M. Ricker) who "had wanted her to have at least one Siberian like those that she and Seppala had in the 1920s"!

Ditko of Seppala lying 1969 photo
Ditko of Seppala 1969

We returned home with a little bitch, SNOW RIDGE KODA, who was a daughter of DITKO out of Bunty's mixed-lineage breeding. KODA was unlike any of our other Siberians, small, compact, with a large white blaze but no eye-spots; she had dark ear-linings and her facial colour extended down the sides of her muzzle. My wife called her "the little sausage." KODA looked primitive beside our show dogs.
     That autumn I returned to Snow Ridge with KODA -- to breed her to her sire! At that stage I knew no better. KODA duly delivered the Tadluk D-Litter, consisting of TADLUK'S DAVIK and two sisters. I was disappointed that they were not little replicas of their sire, but at that point I still had everything to learn about Seppala strain.

Next Page