Britain’s rarest breed dog is facing extinction, after just 24 puppies were registered with the Kennel Club last year.
Otterhounds were originally bred, as their name suggests, to hunt otters, but they have been dying out since the practice was banned in 1978.
Britain’s Otterhound Club is now appealing for prospective dog owners to choose an Otterhound and protect the breed’s future.
They’re rarer than giant pandas or white rhino, with fewer than 1,000 worldwide and 300 in Britain.
Will Lazenby is a vet from Coylton in Ayrshire and member of the Otterhound members club.
He says the hunting dogs, which were popular in the Borders for hundreds of years, are the perfect pet.
“French bulldogs, pugs and Labradors are usually at the top of the lists of the most popular dogs,” he said.
“These are good breeds but people don’t consider these wonderful dogs.
“It’s sad as they were considered useful dogs for many, but they’re also excellent pets.”
King John of England used the animals to hunt otters in the 12th Century, with Elizabeth I becoming the first Lady Master of Otterhounds.
They’re known as the Amiable Hound, or the Clown of Hounds, for their gentle and playful nature.
The breed that we recognise today dates back to the 18th Century, and their popularity peaked in the middle of the 19th Century.
“They’re not a rich or a posh person’s dog, though,” said Will.
“Otterhounds were seen as a working class dog. They were said to help rid the village ponds of otters feeding on fish.
“Dog owners would take Otterhounds to hunt otters, and lots of family and friends would go along too.
“It became an event, people would take picnics and make a day of it.
“To me it would be very sad if an historic breed like the Otterhound was to die out.”
The breed was blamed, though, for a shortage in otter numbers, and laws banning otter hunts were passed in Scotland in 1979 – although the dogs were unlikely to have been to blame.
Judith Ashworth is a co-ordinator of the Otterhound Club and has kept them for 35 years.
“They were popular dogs among the hunting community, because otters were considered vermin,” she said.
“The decline of otter populations was blamed on Otterhounds and hunting of them was banned — but it turned out to be nitrates and poisons used on the land which was seeping into rivers.
“Otterhounds got the blame and they became greatly reduced after that.”
Will has urged dog lovers to consider the breed in future, saying they’re the perfect family pet.
“You read a lot of rubbish on the internet about Otterhounds being boisterous and needing a lot of exercise, and that they need to live in the country,” Will explained.
“But they’re not like that at all. They don’t need hours and hours of exercise, and are generally very adaptable dogs.”
And Judith, who has two Otterhounds, agreed that the dogs make excellent pets.
“They’re great big cuddly teddy bears,” she said. “Although they’ve got a mind of their own they love children.”
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