Breed History in the UK
THE FIRST Alaskan Malamutes arrived in the UK in 1959 when William and Barbara Preston were posted here by the US military, bringing with them three Malamutes: Pawnee Flash of Northwind (Pawnee), a large grey and white dog of M’loot bloodlines, Preston’s Cheechako (Chako), a black-and-white bitch, who combined M’loot and Kotzebue lines and whose pedigree included some of the best of the Husky-Pak dogs, and her black-and-white daughter, Ambara’s Nuviya (Nuvi), whose sire, Am.Ch. Mulpus Brook’s the Bear, was the top winning dog of his day.
The Preston’s American prefix was Ambara (a combination of their names) but they were not allowed to use it over here and so registered instead the prefix Kananak, an Eskimo word meaning Northwind. There was a total of three Kananak litters before the Prestons returned to the States in 1961, but it was the first of these – the ‘A’ litter – that was to have the most influence on the future of the breed in the UK.
The Kananak ‘A’ litter (Pawnee x Nuvi), consisted of eight puppies: three dogs and five bitches. Only one of the dogs, Aklak of Kananak, was ever shown, and he did well, but the only attempt to use him at stud was unsuccessful, so it was the bitches that formed the breed’s foundation. Four of them were bred from and, of these, the two most influential were Anuka of Kananak, owned by Dinah Margerison, and Aninrak of Kananak, owned by Janet Edmonds. Incidentally, one of the bitches, Akeun of Kananak, went to the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association where she was the first of several Malamutes trained as guide dogs, and she became the ‘eyes’ of P.C. Arthur Rowlands, who had been blinded by a gunman.
From the ‘B’ and ‘C’ litters in 1960 and 1961, and both by Pawnee and Chako, seven puppies were registered from the first and just one from the second, though there is some conjecture as to exactly how many were actually produced, and none of these had any significant influence on the future of the breed.
When the Prestons returned to the US they took Pawnee and Chako with them, but left Nuvi behind, having first mated her to Pawnee. Four puppies were registered from the resulting litter, though it is believed the litter was larger, and, again, they had no further influence.
Following the Prestons departure there was a period of uncertainty regarding the future in that, as Barbara Preston was very much the focal point for the breed in the UK, her departure left a sizeable gap and if it hadn’t of been for a very small handful of dedicated people the breed could very easily have simply faded away. However, with perseverance, progress was made and soon breed notes appeared in the dog press, classes were scheduled at The Nordic and in 1964, (with the sponsorship of the Finnish Spitz Club) the Alaskan Malamute Club (now the Alaskan Malamute Club of the United Kingdom) was formed, initially with just 25 members, though the birth wasn’t an easy one. There was a minimum requirement in terms of membership levels for new KC-affiliated clubs and with a very limited pool of Malamutes and owners in the country, it was difficult to attract the necessary numbers. In addition, many were already members of the Husky Club (the club for the what was to become the Eskimo Dog, as opposed to the Siberian Husky, which had yet to emerge) and there was a fair amount of opposition on the basis of ‘the need’ for a new and separate club. A further complication was that the word ‘Malamute’ was registered with the Kennel Club as a Husky breeders prefix, which caused a degree of confusion with some people thinking their Malamute Husky was an Alaskan Malamute! However, with perseverance and more than a little creativity, the AMC did finally arrive.
However, as the breed in the UK began to grow it was not without crises. The first was the emergence of mismarks in all of the litters produced by all four of the Kananak ‘A’ bitches, a matter that was subject to great debate at the time in relation to the breed standard. This was followed by the death of the sire of these litters in a road accident, which left the breed with a massive hole in its gene pool, the only males available to the mature bitches being their brothers! So at the end of 1963, Clem and Barbara Cook imported Kobuk Chancellor of Clebar (Buddy). Importing a dog in the 1960s was very different to the process that we go through now, and the importation of Buddy was extremely expensive and complicated. Buddy was chosen for his pedigree, which complimented that of the Kananak bitches and he was used at stud on several occasions, his progeny forming the basis of the breed for several of the early UK breeders.
In 1965, at the Annual General Meeting of the newly formed Alaskan Malamute Club, the fact that Malamutes had been listed in the US as one of the breeds in which Hip Dysplasia had occurred was debated, and it was suggested that breeders should start X-raying stock to ascertain the situation in the breed in the UK. While understanding of the condition was limited, and testing and assessing techniques were not as advanced as they are today, the information gathered was invaluable and from this the basis of the current Club Code of Ethics was evolved. But this was not without its casualties. It emerged that the condition was fairly widespread within the breed with the result being that several dogs were dropped from breeding programmes, some without having actually been bred from. Sadly, one of these was Buddy, and it was very much to Clem and Barbara Cook’s credit that, despite the considerable expense they had incurred, they immediately withdrew him from stud (though it should be noted that this was a decision that was based on the prevailing AMC ‘policy’ which, with hindsight, could have been considered a little draconian as he was far from chronic and there were other factors and options that probably should have been considered). This, of course, created another crisis as the breed was left with only one available stud dog and it became a matter of urgency to resolve this by importing more stock. Over the next few years the breed gradually grew, both numerically and in popularity, and several importations helped to expand the limited gene pool. Tote-Um’s Arctic Hawk was imported as a puppy by a consortium of AMC members in 1966 and he was followed two years later by Tote-Um’s Tamahine of Seacourt.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Neil Brown imported several pure Kotzebue Malamutes, the first being from the ‘Tigara’ kennels, a name he registered in the UK, and these were bred from but never mixed with the existing UK stock, thereby keeping a completely separate pure Kotzebue line. In 1980 two Malamutes, Alvaasen’s Wolf and Alvaasen’s Mitzy were mated in quarantine en route to Norway and the entire litter was purchased by Janetta Parkyns – the Seacourt ‘Christmas’ litter. More imports followed with Kimska’s Arctic Seahawk of Highnoons, Malnorska’s Danikka of Highnoons and her half-sister Malnorska’s Gypsy Lady, to name but a few, and the Malamutes UK gene pool steadily grew. Kennel names from the first 30 years in the UK include Kananak, Clebar, Highnoons, Seacourt, Tigara, Jacbar, Arctictrek and Cristakell, and while many can be found in pedigrees, very few are still active today.
The 1980s saw an increase in registrations from just 15 in 1980 to 63 in 1990, but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that registrations started to consistently exceed 100 a year, with a peak of 1295 being reached in 2011 before a gradual decline to 264 in 2019. Probably one of the most significant challenges to the breed in the UK was in 2006 when, after 47 years, the Malamute ceased to be classified as a rare breed when the Kennel Club ‘awarded’ it championship status. Whilst this was inevitable, bearing in mind the level of registrations, there has always been mixed feelings about the benefits and pitfalls of championship status. Some notable people from the past have long voiced their concerns, having seen the effects that the sort of growth that CC status brings can have on a breed, whilst others feel that the new-found popularity, and subsequent diversity, can be good. The breed club, or at least a number of people within it, fought long and hard against CCs but, as previously said, with the sort of growth being experienced in Malamute numbers, CCs were inevitable and it will, as always, be up to those in the breed to do all they can to ensure that the Malamute doesn’t go the way of some breeds in the past when this particular milestone (some might say millstone!) was passed. What must be remembered is that the Malamute, unlike many breeds, had been around in the UK in ever-growing numbers for nearly half a century before CCs arrived and, as such, had the time to become firmly, but gradually, established. Experience had been gained, lines had evolved and mistakes had been learnt from, and many of the safety nets required were already in place. Breeds, and there are many, who achieve this level of growth and subsequent CC status early on in their UK history are not afforded this luxury.
In the early days there were very few opportunities to show Malamutes. The first show to put on a Malamute class was the Nordic Open Show in 1961, which was, and still is, run by the Finnish Spitz Club. It was won by Janet Edmonds’ Aninrak of Kananak. To mark this milestone event, Janet had donated a half-sovereign to be presented to the winner, a gesture she repeated when due to judge the AMCUK Club Championship Show in 2009. The first Club Show was on July the 23rd 1966 and was called The Alaskan Malamute Club Rare Breeds Open Show’. It was open to all rare breeds and not just Malamutes, though at the time, technically, there was no such thing as a rare breed, it was simply breeds that had not been granted championship status by the Kennel Club. The breed was judged by Mr. John Green of the British Antarctic Survey and the show was held at the Stevenage Town Football Club ground. Best of Breed in the Malamutes went to Highnoons Apache of Truwood, Best Opposite Sex was Anuka of Kananak and Best Puppy was Highnoons Coer D’Arlene.
For a variety of reasons (though the main two were finances and the refusal of the Kennel Club to recognise or allow the use of the term ‘Rare Breed’ in this context!), the show was only held twice, and for a number of years the Nordic took on the mantle of ‘unofficial’ club show. It was not until 1988 that the Alaskan Malamute Club Open Show emerged again. The first of these, held on September the 25th 1988, took place at Solihull Riding Club and was judged by Mrs. Betty James. Best in Show was Seacourt Pirate Captain, Best Opposite Sex was Kuskokwim Tornado and Best Puppy Highnoons Onondaga.
The first Malamute classes at Crufts were in 1987, but Malamutes were shown there long before then in Any Variety Not Separately Classified. The two AVNSC classes were held on the second day of Crufts (then a two day show), which was the day for Non-Sporting and Gundog Breeds. The first time Malamutes appeared was in 1960, when two of the Malamutes that were brought into the UK by Bill and Barbara Preston, Pawnee Flash of Northwind and Ambara’s Nuviya, were both entered in AVNSC Open Dog or Bitch, under Mrs. W. Barber, with Pawnee Flash being placed third. They shared the ring with a number of Mexican Hairless, two Groenendael, an American Cocker, a Hungarian Kuvasz, an Iceland Dog and a Husky (not a Siberian Husky, an Eskimo Dog). The two were also entered in 1961, this time in both AVNSC classes (AVNSC Novice Dog or Bitch and AVNSC Open Dog or Bitch) under Mr. W. Siggers, though I have no information as to whether or not either were placed. On this occasion they shared the ring with, again, a number of Mexican Hairless, just one Groenendael, two Iceland Dogs and four Huskies (as above!). In 1962 was the first time a Malamute that was bred in the UK was shown at Crufts. In that year, there were three Malamutes entered: One, Aninrak of Kananak, owned by Janet Edmonds, went Best AVNSC Bitch. The other two were Ankya of Kananak, owned by Mrs. D. Margerison, and Apsok of Kananak jointly owned by Mrs. R. Marsh and Barbara Preston. All of them were bred by Bill and Barbara Preston, were judged by Mr. F. Warner Hill, and the Malamutes shared the ring with the usual batch of Mexican Hairless, plus three Norwegian Buhunds, five Italian Maremma Sheepdogs and an Iceland Dog. In 1987, when the breed did eventually get classes, they were judged by Ferelith Hamilton (who became Ferelith Somerfield) and Best of Breed was a bitch, Kuskokwim Tornado owned by Lynne Moore (now Lynne Ironmonger-White). Crufts was also the venue for the first set of CC’s awarded in 2006 and, on this occasion, the judge was Zena Thorn-Andrews. Ironically, the very first winner of a CC at a UK Championship Show (as dogs are shown before bitches), Cabello and Sanchez’ Sp/Port Ch. Zulem I Can To Be Magic (Spain), was disqualified following a rule infringement and the CC was awarded to the Reserve CC winner Corr’s Int/Can/Am Ch. Onak’s This Is All About Me (USA).
The first Club Championship Show was held on September the 23rd 2006 at Newark Showground and was judged by Sharon Weston from the USA. Best in Show was Kaiyuh Lucky Chance, Best Opposite Sex was Dom Perignon and Best Puppy Cedarcreek Deepest Dream. When CCs were first introduced for the breed in 2006, there were just 8 shows at which they were awarded. From 2024, the AMCUK will hold two championship shows and all general championship shows except Belfast will have CC’s on offer.
Towards the end of the 1980’s there was a growing number of people working their Malamutes and there were a few on the Clubs General Committee that supported the view that this was an area that the Club should become involved in, Bryan Crane, Chris John and myself being amongst them. Unfortunately, there was also a sizable faction within the breed that were against the idea of the Club actively promoting this aspect of the breed, though the reasons behind this were not simply an aversion to, or disapproval of, working Malamutes. The main concern that many held was the damage that could be done to the breed as a whole, and individual dogs specifically, if people were allowed to work their Malamutes without due consideration for the health of the dogs and, more importantly, the needs of a Malamute during the growing stages. Basically, there were concerns that people, more through ignorance and impatience than anything else, would work their dogs too young and damage would result. Additionally, and perhaps this is of even more importance, at this time there were few opportunities for people to ‘seriously’ work their sled dogs and a large majority of those that were available were specifically geared towards working Siberian Huskies. The concern that this brought with regard to the breed, was that Malamutes are not racing dogs, they are freighting dogs, and to encourage people to ‘race’ them on a competitive basis, rather than to partake in more appropriate endurance-based events, would ultimately see the breed changing and it’s unique ‘type’ could be lost as people breed towards producing dogs that will be able to perform in an arena for which they were never designed.
At the time, the whole aspect of ‘working Malamutes’ was discussed at great length, and it was decided by the committee at the time that developing the working side could be considered, but that it would have to be within the confines of the breeds function and the Club should not be encouraging the sort of ‘over-competitiveness’ that could cause damage. It was decided to ‘test the water’ by opening up the debate to the wider membership and, to this end, myself and Bryan Crane put out a call for people to have their say. However, there was still a great deal of opposition to the concept
of the Club being actively involved in this area and, when it became apparent that this was never realistically going to get off the ground, several people (including some serving committee members) became frustrated and walked away from the Club. And from this the Alaskan Malamute Working Association – AMWA – was born.
Today, opportunities for working Malamutes in a wide variety of disciplines suited to the unique abilities of the breed, are available through a number of organisations, and the AMCUK, having moved on from its early opposition, is now included in the list.
Many within the breed have always been very active in the area of health and have readily adopted health tests as they became available, and the hip scoring of all breeding Malamutes and annual eye testing for hereditary cataracts has long been a routine part of every breeders life. Over the years there has also been a great deal of activity in the area of research with people readily embracing projects as they emerge and providing both practical and financial support, and through the provision of DNA samples being gathered on a world-wide basis. This has resulted in DNA tests now being available for Polyneuropathy in 2012, Cone Degeneration shortly afterwards and more recently Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia. Advances are being made at The Animal Health Trusts research establishment in the area of Hereditary Cataracts (for which it is hoped that, in the not too distant future, a test will also be available) and a variety of other traits and conditions.
There are many books about the Malamute and both of the current breed clubs produce regular magazines for their members. The AMCUK continues to produce ‘The Sled Dog and AMWA has ‘The Worker’. Of particular historical interest is The Sled Dog, which for many years was the magazine not just of the Alaskan Malamute Club, but also the Eskimo Dog Club and the Siberian Husky Club, and remained so well into the late 1980’s. Since then, the Siberian Husky Club, having grown dramatically, has gone its own way and produces its own magazine. The Eskimo Dog Club no longer exists in its original form as the breed has split, and we now have the Canadian Eskimo Dog Club and the Greenland Dog Club.
Since the first Malamute came into rescue in 1990, AMCUK Rescue has faced a series of challenges, many brought by the dramatic growth in the breeds popularity and, subsequently, the growth in dubious breeding practices. But there have also been some ‘major rescue events’ that have tested the Rescue team to its limits, not least of which being the enormous problem that arose in 2014 in Ireland when the Hunters abandoned over 40 Malamutes, leaving Rescue and it’s many supporters to pick up the pieces. The world of dogs can be a fickle place, but indifferences disappear and disputes vanish when the chips are down!
So what about the future? It would seem that the initial burst of interest in the breed that championship status brought has died down. Registration numbers are falling and the breed will almost certainly follow the pattern of many other breeds that have gone through similar stages of evolution. Over 60 years on from the arrival of the first Malamutes in the UK, and there have been many changes, many good times, and a few bad. But through the dedication of those within the breed over the many years, it has successfully weathered all the storms and there is no doubt that the Alaskan Malamute will continue to thrive, whilst always remaining the happy, healthy breed that we all love.
Mike & Chris John – Cristakell malamutes