Last Thursday I spent the morning at Gelliswick Bay near Milford Haven meeting five Sealyham terriers and their owner Janet Wonnacot.

Sealyhams are one of only three native Welsh dog breeds (the others are the Cardigan Corgi and the Welsh terrier) and a campaign has just been launched to save them from 'the brink of extinction'.

Country Life magazine is highlighting their plight, pointing out that the breed is rarer than Giant pandas, with only 49 puppies registered with the Kennel Club last year.

It wasn't always the case. In the early 1900s, an incredible 11,000 Sealyhams were known to exist and they were the dog of choice for Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant.

A Sealyham terrier also appears in every one of Alfred Hitchcock's films and Princess Margaret owned two.

Sealyham Terrier. Image by Rachel Garside.

The breed was originally created by Captain John Edwards who lived in the village of Sealyham in Pembrokeshire, with the intention of using them as hunting dogs, to flush out badgers and kill rats and polecats.

In 1850 he began crossing various terriers including the Fox terrier, the West Highland terrier, the Dandie Dinmont terrier and possibly the Welsh Cardigan Corgi.

The result was a Sealyham - a feisty but affectionate dog who makes a good hunter and guard dog. I asked Janet Wonnacot who's been breeding Sealyhams for 48 years why the numbers have gone down so dramatically.

She thinks it's because the current fashion is for what she calls 'wash and go' dogs - the lap dogs seen tucked under the arms or in the handbags of various celebrities and that terriers just aren't as popular any more.

Janet Wonnacot with Sealyham terriers, Gracie and Bella.

'People are crossing breeds to create new types like Labradoodles and Cockapoos but I think it's a shame when we have so many native breeds. It also frustrates me when I see Sealyhams described as 'English' terriers as they're very much a Welsh breed'.

' I also asked Janet if the remaining blood lines are strong enough to ensure the future of the breed and she feels that there are enough dogs left but that care needs to be taken when they are bred.

She's keen to stress that numbers aren't everything and that the health and welfare of the dogs should remain the priority.

I met the newest member of her canine family, a dog called Bruno who's just been imported from Denmark. He was clearly getting used to his new Welsh home and unaware that he could be doing his bit to save his species.


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