Otterhound puppies boost breed’s survival
Two bitches, Calista and Symphony, produced the litters at the home of the breeder Maria Lerego (seen left with another of her dogs) in Ocle Pychard, Herefordshire, almost matching the total of 20 that were born in the UK during the whole of last year.
There are less than 1,000 Otterhounds left in the world and about 300 of those are in Britain.
The number is far less than the 2,000 or so giant pandas left in the world and the 17,000 white rhinos.
Otterhounds date back to the 12th century when they were bred to hunt otters which were then seen as a pest. King John and Queen Elizabeth I were owners.
Their numbers rapidly decreased when otter hunting was banned in 1978.
A breed apart
The big, strongly built British Otterhound is believed to trace back to the Griffon Vendeen and the now extinct rough-coated Griffon de Bresse.
According to the Otterhound Club, these hounds were imported into Britain in significant numbers before 1870.
In 1906, the Hamilton Otterhounds were sold individually to masters of Otterhounds. The Otterhound has keen scenting abilities almost on a par with the Bloodhound.
The dogs, which are fine swimmers, would swim upriver, following the otter’s “wash” or trail of bubbles.
When otter hunting was outlawed in the UK, the Master of the Kendal and District Otterhounds in the Lake District set up the Otterhound Club to ensure the breed’s survival.
The Otterhound makes an amiable though stubborn pet that can be somewhat destructive within the household, if undisciplined.
Like other thick-coated breeds, it can be kenneled outdoors if the owner wishes, though many Otterhounds live indoors. It needs a considerable amount of exercise and its rough coat should be groomed once a week, and bathed as necessary.
Experts fear the hounds could be extinct within ten years.
“So many of the public have never heard of them, even though they are a traditional British breed,” said Ms Lerego, 50. “They are lovely pets — laid back and good with children. But they are quite a handful. A friend of mine says it is like looking after a five-year-old boy — 19 times over.”
She added: “I am over the moon. We now have as many as we did in the whole of the last year for the country.
“There are so few Otterhounds because they had never been available to the general public, so the public didn’t know they existed.
“We now have a lot more people interested in the breed and I have people waiting to buy the puppies.
“They will go to their new homes at nine weeks.
“The breed is still very much at risk if the numbers keep declining as they are at the moment, but it is a much happier situation than five years ago.”