‘Were it not for Country Life, Sealyhams would be extinct by now’

Sealyham terrier breeder Harry Parsons has welcomed a new litter of puppies — great news for a breed which teetered on the edge of extinction not long ago.

‘When I look outside, I think the rest of the world is going mad, but I could happily shut myself off with four acres and 30 little dogs,’ says Sealyham terrier breeder Harry Parsons, who has been breeding Sealyhams ‘the old-fashioned way’ for the past 35 years or so.

Photographer Millie Pilkington was photographing Harry and some of his dogs for a forthcoming feature, and happened to arrive shortly after his recent litter of five pups, now eight weeks old.

Sealyhams were once a favourite dog of the A-list for a period in the middle of the 20th century. Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock all had Sealyhams, and even the Royal Family were admirers: particularly Princess Margaret.

From that high, however, things changed and they became rare almost to the point of extinction a decade ago, with fewer than 50 annual registrations with the Kennel Club in 2009 and 2010.

Country Life’s cover story of October 26, 2011, sparked huge interest in this lovable and charming breed, and numbers have soared of late, with two or three times that number of puppies now being born each year.

It’s not hard to see the appeal. ‘They’re small, friendly dogs, full of character and great for families,’ said Bill Lambert of the Kennel Club when he spoke to us a couple of years ago about the successful comeback of the Sealyham Terrier.

Sealyham terrier puppies

Credit: Millie Pilkington for Country Life

They make good working dogs and are efficient ratters, but adjust well to life in the city so long as they’re kept busy. And they’re probably easier on town-based owners rather than those in the country, since those short legs and that long hair make them magnets for mud.

Given the history of the breed, Harry is acutely aware of his need to make sure his puppies end up in good hands.

‘The problem is getting the right dogs to the right people,’ he says. ‘I turn down more than I sell to, as they need to want the dog for the right reason.

‘Were it not for the Country Life article and some other coverage, this breed would be extinct by now.’