Bobby Lewis was born and raised on the family farm in Natural Bridge, Virginia, where he continues to live to this day. He saw his first Sussex Spaniel in a circa 1930’s AKC Complete Dog Book that was in the local library. As only a handful of Sussex were in America at the time, he contacted Eunice and Milt Gies, who owned the 1972 Westminster Kennel Club Best of Breed winner, CH. Sedora Quettadene Damon. He was then 14 years of age, and his parents were kind enough to support him in the endeavor. CH Oldholbans Fionnlagh arrived from Sussex, England, in 1972, followed by CH. Fourclovers Lapwai in early 1973. Thus began Bobby’s 50-year involvement with the breed under the “Lexxfield” kennel name. For the past several years, his partner Marcus Thomas has joined in the Lexxfield breeding program.
AKC: How did you get started in breeding dogs?
Bobby: Fionnlagh and Lapwai were the first purebred dogs I ever owned. Fionnlagh was mated to Damon four months after arriving in America and whelped a litter of three in March 1973. The Lexxfield breeding program is now 15 generations removed from that first litter. All current Lexxfield-bred Sussex, as well as most other Sussex Spaniel alive in the United States today, go back in a direct line to my first two imports.
AKC: What is the most important thing to know about the Sussex Spaniel?
Bobby: The Sussex Spaniel is one of the most critically endangered breeds and has existed in extremely low numbers for the entire 225-plus years of its existence. All Sussex are a golden liver in color that is unique to the breed. The best examples of the breed today actually look like those from the 1800’s. Although its long and low build and color attract attention, the Sussex Spaniel’s personality is its biggest draw. The breed is among the healthiest of all purebreds but raising litters can sometimes be a challenge.
What is your favorite question to ask of potential puppy buyers?
Bobby: “How much do you know about Sussex Spaniels?” is often my first question. The internet has many sources of information on the breed, and not much of it is accurate. I also inquire about what traits the person is looking for in a dog and what characteristics they want to avoid in a dog. Sussex Spaniels are not for everyone. I want to make sure that a potential owner has as much information about the breed as possible. If I determine that the Sussex would not be a good fit, I will gently steer the person away from the breed.
What are the main qualities you look for in potential owners?
Bobby: I look for a stable home environment and the ability to care for a Sussex puppy and the adult that it will become. I have found that taking the time to talk with people pays dividends in the end. Getting a feel for the person and his or her family life is critical. If the conversation raises “red flags,” I will dissuade the person from considering the breed further. With Sussex being so rare, I also ask whether a potential buyer is interested in breeding a litter. If the answer is “yes,” and the person is a good fit for the breed, I put them at the top of the waiting list. It is not uncommon for a person to have owned several generations of Lexxfield-bred Sussex over decades. It is often said that once one owns a Sussex, no other breed will do.
What is the best advice you would give to novice breeders?
Bobby: On occasion, Sussex litters can be notoriously difficult to raise. This is best summed up by Col. R. Claude Cain who wrote the following in The Sporting Spaniel, circa 1906:
“I myself began to try and breed Sussex Spaniels nearly fifteen years ago from a foundation purchased from Mr. Woolland, but although I have been fairly successful, on whole my record has been one of disappointment and ill-luck. Several of the best specimens of both sexes bought by me from Mr. Woolland died before I had succeeded in breeding from them; pups have been born dead, and the greater number of those who were born alive have not reached maturity…”
This quote should not serve as a deterrent but viewed as a challenge to the novice and expert alike. Not every Sussex litter is difficult. The last two litters that we had were among the easiest I have experienced. My advice to anyone interested in breeding Sussex is to develop a relationship with an experienced Sussex Spaniel breeder who can assist in all phases of the breeding process. Those who have whelped litters of other breeds often remark that Sussex litters are completely different from what they have previously experienced. Another important point that needs to be stressed is that breeding decisions regarding critically endangered breeds like the Sussex require common sense.
Do your dogs participate in AKC sports?
Bobby: Although we only participate in AKC conformation shows, several dogs carrying the Lexxfield name have pursued other types of events under the AKC umbrella.
What do you like best about breeding dogs?
Bobby: I have always had a fascination with pedigrees and Sussex Spaniel history. Although the breed has always been very rare, pedigree information on the Sussex is among the most complete of any breed. Any Sussex pedigree can be traced in an unbroken line back to 1812. Breed type was poor when I began 50 years ago. I have had great satisfaction over the years in helping to restore the breed to its correct type and temperament as described in the AKC breed standard. Another aspect of breeding that has been rewarding is the personal friendships I have made over the years.
Do you have a favorite breeding story?
Bobby: I was 15 years of age when I whelped my first Sussex litter, two bitches and a male, in my parent’s kitchen. Another litter of nine followed in 1974. All 12 puppies from these litters were from natural deliveries and all lived. With the breed’s propensity for difficult litters, whelping and successfully raising two litters in my mid-teens would seem miraculous. Today’s breeders say that divine intervention must have occurred.