Interview with Erica Dunlavey, Breeder of Ellusion’s Kennel Sealyham Terriers
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Erica Dunlavey: I live in Humboldt, Iowa, and I have been in the dog world, since I was a baby. I grew up on a farm where we always had dogs around. I started breeding when I was a teenager, when we had Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with my mother (Michelle Erickson). We co-owned and made breeding decisions together.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently have?
Erica Dunlavey: Our kennel name is Ellusion’s Kennel. We have enough dogs at the moment, and we have also helped our town rescue dogs that were in trouble. Some never left, so we have tried our very best to give all of our dogs the best life we can.
Which breeders have provided the greatest influence on my decision to breed dogs?
Erica Dunlavey: Hmm… there are a lot, and over time my influences have grown. But my biggest one, outside of my family, would have to be one of my mom’s best friends, Cindy Kunnert; always wanting to do things the correct way, whether it was a tough call or not, testing for genetic faults and OFA-ing, researching the best food plans, deep-diving into pedigrees, etc.
Can I talk a bit about my foundation dogs? How have they influenced my breeding program?
Erica Dunlavey: A little back story… We (my mother and I) were not actually looking to start breeding the Sealyham Terrier. I was looking for a grooming competition dog. We first talked with Sally Hawk at SuperZoo, out in Las Vegas, when I had picked out the breed to start getting information on them. Then I was introduced to Lisa Wright who helped me get acquainted with the breed. I had gone to learn how to groom Sealys from Margery Good and Sally Hawk, and I brought a very special bitch home with me! We then purchased another very special girl from Lisa Wright.
This bitch was the start of our breeding program in Sealyhams and she gave us our very first litter which introduced us to another breeder/shower, Diana Franscios, who owns “Paton” whom we were lucky enough to be able to breed to. That litter produced our main male, “Remi.”
What about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Erica Dunlavey: Our facility is a boarding facility that was built on my parents’ property. My father and mother and I flew to Houston to look at other facilities to see what/how we wanted to put up one for ourselves. It took a very long time to decide on all the tiny details, but it was the first in Iowa at the time to be put up with glass doors and tile floors (heated floors) and indoor/outdoor runs with huge exercising yards. Living on a farm has its perks as to having a ton of room to play with. Pups are either born at one of our houses or down at the kennel under watchful eyes. We get the most traffic once the pups are a certain age. Between my four children and my brother’s oldest child, those pups get all the attention and love!
Do I have a process for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Erica Dunlavey: We like to look at our pups at exactly 8 weeks. We go over every inch of the litter. I have a three-strike mark rule for choosing a show puppy. We write down on paper everything that we like and don’t like. If there are three things I do not like about a pup, I will not keep it for show. As we all know, as pups grow, things you see or don’t see that you like at 8 weeks can and will change over time. Sometimes you don’t make the right call, but we all do our best.
Now, of course, we can’t keep every pup we like, so being as selective as possible is important. Also, if we choose not to keep any pups just because we feel that we have “enough,” then it’s important for the future owners to know exactly what we see in our own pups so that they have an idea of what they may or may not have. We have made some wrong decisions, but we are so happy that we did because other people deserve the best of our best and are willing to stay into showing.
How do I choose the homes for my puppies? Is puppy placement important to me as a breeder?
Erica Dunlavey: When someone contacts us, we get to start the process of getting to know what the family is looking for; we know our puppies really well so it makes a big difference in what they want. Sometimes we have what we think will be a fit and sometimes we move them on to another breeder because we just may not have exactly what they are looking for.
Placement of our pups is one of the most important things when we breed. There are so many questions that have to be asked. People need to be vetted, and choosing a pup that is right for them is a special thing to be able to do. Being able to provide another family member to someone is amazing, especially when you make the perfect fit and get to watch them grow as a family, whether they want a pup for show or another sport or just a companion dog!
Can I share my thoughts on how my breed is currently presented in the show ring?
Erica Dunlavey: Our breed, as most know, is endangered. This means that we do not have many out there, especially in the show rings. I have learned that we have the whole overall look as to what a Sealyham is supposed to look like, but everyone does their grooming a bit differently. Also, we each have certain “looks” that we like. I know I have a very specific look; I like a heavier-boned Sealy with lots of coat. (Yes, it is much more specific, but it would take all day to describe.)
I think we have some newer blood in our breed and, yes, I am one of them. I am still learning the grooming and fine-tuning. It has been a journey I never could have done without the help of so many in our breed. I have been able to take bits and pieces from other breeders across the country.
Are there any health-related concerns within my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Erica Dunlavey: Of course, just like any other breed, ours has its issues. Doing lots of research over the years and DNA testing have been a huge part of what we do. We have tested our main male for everything we possibly can. A couple of our biggest concerns that I believe most breeders in Sealys have are back issues and blindness. We try to watch how we breed, to make sure we don’t breed the genes that we should be staying away from.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
Erica Dunlavey: Obviously, I would say that we have a lot of breeders doing the right thing and trying to have the soundest breeding stock possible. Could it be better? Absolutely, but with not having many breeding dogs out there it makes it a lot more difficult to obtain that. I think some people, instead of just talking about helping to save our breed, need to help more or at least quit belittling the breeders who are trying to save it! We all have people in our breeds whom we may not like or get along with, but when a breed is at a possibility of being gone forever (and we love it so much) we need to come together to help each other.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Erica Dunlavey: Families are amazing. I have an ADHD child and this is one reason we picked this particular breed. We came from Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which are very soft. Sealys are very sturdy. We needed something that my son, who was hyperactive, wouldn’t (accidently) scare or hurt. These little tanks are amazing for families with kids. We have learned that they are amazing for almost anyone in any stable condition, be it a single person who wants a companion (if they like to do a lot of outdoor sports or water sports) or elderly couples that don’t do a lot but want a laid-back dog. As my mom says, “They are magical!” The right pup is pretty much going to be a perfect match for whatever you want to do. They just want to be loved and spoiled—as they should be!
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Erica Dunlavey: No, not even close. Our numbers do not lie. We do not have enough to save this breed, and more and more are not breeding. We have people who will make derogatory comments about some people who are trying to help keep our numbers up. I believe these few people are really making it difficult for us to save this beautiful breed.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with my breed?
Erica Dunlavey: Probably the most amusing thing is when you watch them do a new sport and they clown around at first, and then you get to see the moment it “clicks” in their head like, “Oooooh, this is what I’m supposed to do… OMG! YAY!! SO FUN!!!” Specifically, watching Remi do FastCAT the first couple of times, he didn’t quite get what he was supposed to do. Then the third time came around and he figured it out. Now he is absolutely crazy over it and goes nuts every time he is close to the lure. It’s just like watching your child figure out something new when they are little. That proud moment, it gives all the good feelings.
Are you looking for a Sealyham Terrier puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home a Sealyham Terrier dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
Sealyham Terrier Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the outgoing Sealyham Terrier dog breed with articles and information in our Sealyham Terrier Dog Breed Magazine.
Sealyham Terrier Breed Magazine - Showsight