A year and a half ago, I decided to get a new dog. I had heard many good things through the years about otterhounds and thought it would be fun to own one of these “long-haired bloodhounds.”
I had been told they are like bloodhounds (a breed I adore) in many ways: similar in size and coloration, a scent-hound, stubborn. I reached out to an otterhound breeder and soon found myself the proud owner of a sweet, playful puppy named Teddy.
I have since learned that I was lucky to find one at all. I didn’t realize at the time how rare these dogs are.
When their owners talk about them, they use words like “precious” and “extraordinary.” These dogs are beloved, adored and coveted as much as the Hope Diamond. When you become the owner of an otterhound, you become part of a tightly knit family. Every owner keeps track of the life and health of every other otterhound in the world. The death of a single one is a heartbreaking moment for all.
The reason for this is simple: The otterhound is the rarest breed of dog. It becomes even more rare every year and may become extinct. In fact, otterhounds are rarer than the white rhino or the giant panda. Last year only 24 puppies were registered in Great Britain. This year, the United States had only two successful litters producing 12 puppies total. It is estimated that there are only 600 otterhounds worldwide. Two years ago, there were 900.
Otterhounds have a rich history. King John of England used these dogs to hunt otters in the 12th century, and Elizabeth I was the first Lady Master of Otterhounds, keeping her own pack of the dogs. As Scotland was a Catholic country and fish was eaten on Fridays, otterhounds were kept by churches, monasteries and large houses to keep otters away from their fish stocks.
In 1979, otter hunts were banned in England because the dog breed was blamed for the decline in otter numbers. It turned out that nitrates and poisons used on land were seeping into the rivers and poisoning the otters, and that otterhounds were not to blame after all. But the ban severely hurt the breed numbers, as the otterhound packs were broken up, with some individuals going to private homes and others going to mink hunting packs.
It would be a tragedy for otterhounds to become extinct. They are the perfect hunting breed and make excellent pets. They don’t require a lot of exercise and can do very well in apartments as well as large yards. They are often referred to as the clowns of the hound group; and, although they are a bit stubborn, otterhounds are lovable and make terrific family dogs.
Sonnya Crawford, DVM, is a veterinarian at Grays Harbor Veterinary Services in Montesano. Her pets include two cats, numerous parrots, a giant bunny and saltwater fish. Her special interests are in avian medicine, veterinary dermatology and dentistry. Reach her at email@example.com.