Vail Valley family breeds rare pups |

Vail Valley family breeds rare pups

Julie Hutchinson
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/ Jennifer DownsA Vail Valley family is breeding a selling a rare kind of dog called the Norrbottenspets.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Speak slowly when you pronounce the name of this breed of dog.

If you say it too fast, you’ll end up toweling off yourself and your listener as you explain that the Norrbottenspets is a smart, good natured, clean, child friendly dog with a 5,000-year-old pedigree.

Never heard of it?

You’re not alone.

In fact, the Norrbottenspets breed almost died out in the late 1940s, but dog lovers have rediscovered the compact, thick-coated, curly-tailed animals that weigh between 20 and 30 pounds. Norrbottenspets now ranks among the up-and-comingest of breeds in the U.S. ” and in the Vail Valley.

A family in the area imported a breeding pair from Canada three years ago and now is marketing their four irresistibly cute puppies for $1,800 each in classified ads in Vail and Denver newspapers.

“We’ve fallen in love with them,” said breeder Jennifer Downs, a 51-year-old caterer who lives in the valley on an acre and a half with her plumber husband, Bill, and two teenagers.

“They’re just so energetic and social and loving and intelligent,” Downs said.

So far, Downs has sold two female puppies to Vail Valley residents and plans to breed another litter next year, although she’s not sure she’ll have the heart to sell them.

“I told my husband if we have another litter, I’d have a whole sled team and we can keep them all,” she said.

It was Downs’ son, Michael, now 15, who learned about the dogs three years ago when he started pestering his parents for a pet.

Charged with researching which dogs were best suited for the Downs family and their high-altitude, snowy home turf, Michael discovered the Norrbottenspets, which has been used as a hunting dog in Nordic regions since 3,000 B.C.

According to the Downs family, only about 100 of the dogs now live in the United States.

American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson considers the Norrbottenspets a pet among pets.

Although the breed isn’t yet recognized by the AKC, it is featured on the AKC Web site. Peterson anticipates that U.S.-based Norrbottenspets breeders and owners will fulfill requirements for the dog’s official U.S. recognition within a few years. The dog is a recognized breed by clubs in Canada and Sweden.

And that $1,800 price tag for the Vail Valley pups?

“Obviously, the Norrbottenspets is rarer here, so there are fewer, so I think the price is a fair price,” the AKC’s Peterson said.

As for Downs, she’s planning to train her breeding pair, Rudy and Gunn, to do another kind of work in the Vail Valley in addition to making puppies.

She’s interested in training her animals to assist with search-and-rescue teams that aid avalanche victims because her late husband, 32-year-old Stephen Nottingham, and his brother, Randy, were killed in 1987 in an avalanche near Vail. Dogs helped rescue teams recover the brothers’ bodies later that day.

In fact, Downs said she’s willing to negotiate with any Norrbottenspets fancier who promises to train the animal for search-and-rescue work.

In the meantime, Downs said Vail Valley residents are taking note of the cute dogs.

“It’s the newest ” and cutest ” accessory up here,” she said.

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