A litter of one of the rarest dogs in the world has been born in Teddington. Emily Davis investigates what makes the Stabyhoun breed so special.
Earlier in the month it was announced that the first ever litter of Stabyhouns had been born in the UK to five year old bitch Rikje. Listed as one of the top five rarest breeds of dog in the world, there were only seven in the UK, all of whom had been born overseas, before Rikje gave birth to her ten in Teddington.
Stabyhouns are thought to have traces of Labrador, Golden retriever and Spaniel in their blood and are known for being smart but also highly sensitive. They were recognised as an official pedigree breed in 1942, and since then the population has been slowly growing. Today there are around 3500 in the world, with Rikje’s litter nearly tripling the number of Stabyhouns in Britain.
Having a puppy at home myself, I’m only too aware of the strains of parenting a pooch. But then I only have one. Multiply that chewing, pooing and general appetite for destruction by ten and I’m not sure anyone could cope. So how is Rikje’s owner Janice Vittachi, who is also the vice president of the Stabyhoun association, managing her brood?
“Oh I’m so tired! It’s a full time job this” sighs Janice. “Until yesterday I had been sleeping next to the puppies throughout the night to make sure everything was ok. But I’m loving the magical moments as well. Last week they opened their eyes for the first time, and now whenever they see my shape coming towards them their tails start wagging like crazy. This week they have started walking, so they’re wriggling all over the place! Puppies are such time wasters. You really could just watch them all day. I think that’s what people do on the internet!”
But it’s not just the puppies that are taking up Janice’s time. In fact, the whole process started long before they were even conceived.
“Our main thing is we want to make sure the breed is protected and well cared for,” explains Janice. “We like to have homes planned for the dogs long before they are actually born. The application process for a Stabyhoun puppy is extremely rigorous. Firstly, you have to submit an application to the Stabyhoun Association. It will be vetted by the president, and then I interview the candidates. After that we go to their homes to make sure they are suitable. Then, based on the information we have, we’ll make a decision as to whether the candidate is eligible.”
Sounds like a mission. All I had to do to get mine was Google ‘Maltese’ and take a lump of cash round to a slightly shifty breeder’s house the next day. I got my puppy within 24 hours of clicking ‘search’. I feel maybe I should not tell Janice this.
“The reason we have to be so careful is because Stabyhouns are a unique breed with unique needs. They are very intelligent and loyal, but also incredibly stubborn. So we need to make sure prospective owners know what they are taking on.
Also, as you can imagine with there being only 17 Stabyhouns in the country, and 10 of those coming from the same mother, the gene pool in the UK is incredibly small. Inbreeding dogs causes all sorts of problems, so we have to make sure prospective owners will not breed irresponsibly.”
The responsible breeding philosophy is not restricted to the UK. Stabyhouns are the only dogs in the world that have their own global database, where every one born is registered and data logged.
Even the conception itself was not simple. Stabyhouns originate from Holland, so it was perhaps rather fitting that Janice took Rikje all the way back there to have her impregnated. Before the mating took place, the Central Dutch Stabyhoun Association had spent nearly a year seeking out the most appropriate male based on extensive genetic background checks and health records.
Certainly no quick hump in the park then. Are the dogs really worth all this time and effort?
Definitely, says Janice. “They make wonderful family pets. We’d love for the process to continue and for the dogs to be made accessible to families. This is a major step towards establishing the breed in the UK. Stabyhouns are also great because while they have a lot of the lovely characteristics attributed to the Golden Retriever breed, they don’t have the same disposition to develop cancer. I lost my retriever to cancer before I got Rikje, and as you can imagine I really didn’t want that to happen again.”
The big question, however, is surely whether Janice will be keeping one.
“It’s difficult. I’ve been there since the start and even helped deliver the puppies, so I am very attached at the moment. I do have a favourite. Fourth born Mork; I absolutely adore him. I really want him to stay with us, but I think my husband will divorce me if he does!
"Whether or not I keep one though, I have enjoyed the experience immensely. Yes for the rest of the dog community this is an historical moment, but I have trouble thinking of the whole thing as news. To me it is just my little girl having babies! But when they are ready to go to their new homes, I’ll have to be ready to let go. They are growing so fast, and they’ll soon be ready to fly the nest.”
To find out more about Stabyhouns, visit stabyhounuk.com