Siberian Husky Bloodlines: What IS "Seppala Strain"?

Some folks who read these pages will come to them with no previous experience or knowledge of Seppala strain. They may find the point of view from which the various bloodlines are discussed to be a little hard to grasp, perverse even! After all, don't all Siberian Huskies come from Leonhard Seppala's dogs? Doesn't "The New Complete Siberian Husky" say there isn't any real difference?

Here is breed-book author Michael Jennings' argument:

Wheeler, like Seppala and Ricker before him, often used the suffix "of Seppala" when naming his dogs. Renowned for their racing ability, Wheeler dogs were highly prized by many early fanciers of the breed, and today some people still speak of the "pure Seppala strain" that emanated from this kennel. In all fairness, however, it should be pointed out that, given the fact that almost all the early stock came directly from Seppala or related breeding, the dogs coming from this kennel were no more "pure Seppala" than those from most other foundation kennels, the only difference being that Wheeler perpetuated the name longer.
The above statements are found on page 51 of his book, in a half-page section headed "Harry Wheeler" that is vague, overly general, and shot through with appalling inaccuracies and misstatements. Mr. Jennings obviously knew very little about the kennels of Harry Wheeler and J. D. McFaul and did not bother to check his facts.

Neither Seppala nor Ricker (contrary to what is stated above) ever used the suffix "of Seppala" in naming their dogs. "All the early stock" did not come directly from Seppala. Wheeler perpetuated the Seppala name all right, but he also perpetuated the Seppala bloodline in all its purity, and in particular he avoided the breeding of Eva B. Seeley, as well as that of Jacques Suzanne and a number of others with stock of undocumented origin. Obviously he did not think that all the early stock was the same; if his stock was "highly prized," then perhaps there were reasons for that!

Definition of "Seppala strain"

It is easy to define what we mean by Seppala strain. It consists of Siberian stock that descends wholly (not just mostly) from either Leonhard Seppala's dogs or from Siberia import stock, and which has been traditionally and continuously selected only for working sleddog capacity -- not for the show ring. It's that simple! It is not a matter of "percentages." It is not a question of "conformation," colour or markings. It is not even a question of ancestry alone. It is a matter of ancestry and purpose combined, working hand in glove to produce a co-operative, capable working sleddog.

The Wheeler stock (as the Jennings book largely fails to make clear) was actually of such enormous influence that today it underlies virtually all Siberian bloodlines to a greater or lesser extent, including show bloodlines that have not been meaningfully selected or bred for work in harness for many generations. For that reason, mere tracing of ancestry to Wheeler ancestors is not enough to define Seppala strain today. Today's Seppalas descend from the stock of Leonhard Seppala and his partner Elizabeth Ricker, through Wheeler and Belford stock of the 1930s and 1940s -- and thence through the stock of William L. Shearer III (Foxstand) and J. D. McFaul's "Seppala" continuation, through the "Second Foundation" dogs of the Markovo rescue period, down to the present day. Today it is the McFaul/Shearer connection that is the real touchstone of Seppala purity.

Contrary to Jenning's misstatements, J. D. McFaul's "Gatineau" kennels were established long before he bought the remaining Wheeler dogs in 1950; he actually phased his Gatineau breeding out after the Wheeler purchase. McFaul, too, "perpetuated the name" of Seppala Kennels, along with the same principles that had governed Wheeler's breeding. Likewise William L. Shearer III (whose bloodline was based not only on Wheeler lines, but also on Belford stock with Seppala/Ricker origins) perpetuated the Seppala bloodline and actually provided additional breeding stock to McFaul.

When I refer to the McFaul/Shearer bloodline or to "pure Seppala," then, I am referring to something quite distinct and well-defined, not to some vague, undefinable prejudice. Although the world of the mainstream Siberian Husky, particularly that of the show dogs, prefers to pretend otherwise, the truth is that the original Leonhard Seppala bloodline has been perpetuated intact down through the decades for not much short of a century. From Seppala to Ricker, Belford and Wheeler, through Shearer and McFaul, through Bryar, McDougall, Gagnon and others, to the Markovo Kennels rescue of the bloodline from impending extinction in 1970 - 1975, and beyond that to the present day.

Today there is still a "Seppala Kennels" in Canada, "perpetuating the name" and the original bloodline of working Siberian sleddogs. So persistent and ever-present has been the risk of erosion of the bloodline and of its assimilation into the show/pet mainstream of the Siberian Husky that now at last an effort is underway here to obtain full breed status for Seppalas in their own right, as the unique population they have always been. (In despite of those who, like Michael Jennings, insist that they are not unique, because they have never known a real Seppala sleddog.)


These bloodline sketches, then, should be read with the realisation that they are oriented both towards exploring the sources of today's Seppala strain and Seppala Siberian Sleddog evolving breed, and towards understanding the relationships and differences between Seppala strain and other "racing Siberian Husky" bloodlines, most of which are themselves part-Seppala. This material is deliberately general and factual enough to be of considerable value to Siberian Husky breeders who are not themselves involved with Seppalas. It has been placed on the web, in fact, primarily as an educational service to those very breeders, in the belief that a thorough grounding in bloodlines and breed history is essential to the formation of a responsible breeder, whether of Siberian Huskies or of Seppala Siberian Sleddogs.