Reaching Out With a Rare Breed

Meet the Otterhound.[/caption] AKC Gazette breed column— Giving the public opportunities to meet a rare breed can be the key to its survival.

A rare-breed dog is often a delight to own and an enigma to people unfamiliar with them. Taking a rare-breed dog out for his daily walk in the neighborhood frequently results in questions from folks along the way. That is certainly the case with the large-sized Otterhound.

“What kind of dog is that?” is the question each of us hears most. Replying “an Otterhound” leads to the next inevitable question: “A what?” This time, replying more slowly and distinctly, we say, “An otter hound.” The follow-up question is “What were they bred to do?” With tongue in cheek, we explain, “Well, they were meant to hunt otters!” An often-heard response is “I’ve never heard of that kind of dog.”

With the breed’s low numbers—about 350 to 400 in North America—the Otterhound Club of America (OHCA) must look for ways to reach out to the dog-loving public to engage folks with this “clown of the Hound Group.” Building interest in the breed is the only way to keep it from extinction. It’s important for each of us to give our Otterhounds opportunities to be ambassadors, for they speak volumes for themselves. We need only to present them.

Recently several of our members attended a tall-ship festival where maritime and water dogs, including Otterhounds, were invited to meet and greet the public. Five other club members attended a Renaissance fair, where they presented information on how Otterhounds were used to hunt in the medieval period in England. One Otterhound on a horse-show circuit last year made many steadfast friends!

Therapy work is another way your rare breed can meet a wide range of people. One club member who does therapy work with her dogs noted, “From kids in schools and libraries, to teens, to older people in assisted living, my Otterhounds visit and interact with a lot of people.” Another member says she and her hounds go to the dog parks—where what might be an hour-long walk usually takes twice as long, as she is stopped by everyone who asks about the breed and wants to know about its history, temperament, amount of shedding, and so on. She says the "boys” love hands-on, and they gravitate immediately to small children who shriek with delight over their sweet kisses (with permission first, of course). She also carries many pictures of her Otterhounds on her cell phone, and when she tells folks what kind of dogs she has, their blank looks take her right to the photos.

“Meet the Breeds” events, dog shows, and other organized dog activities are good ways to engage people interested in dogs. However, we’ve got to also think outside the box for more ways to find our audience. We must keep in mind that the very survival of the Otterhound depends on each owner. Many owners have several Otterhounds, so if there are 350-400 of our hounds in the United States, that means there are fewer than 350-400 households owning the dogs.

The responsibility is daunting. The question becomes, “What will each of us do to save the Otterhound?”

Thanks to OHCA members Peggy Powell, Jodi Geerlings, Eibhlin Glennon, and Marilyn Hajjar for their comments about how they promote the breed. —Becky Van Houten, Otterhound Club of America

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