THE Skye terrier, the dog immortalised for its loyalty in the story of Greyfriars Bobby, is facing extinction, having been betrayed by the British public.
The dog, whose famous ancestor refused to leave his master's grave, has been revealed as the least popular breed in Britain and could soon be lost forever.
Last year only 30 Skye terriers were born in Britain, in comparison to 45,000 labradors. The Kennel Club of Great Britain is so concerned by the plight of the Skye terrier and other unpopular breeds that it has held a "crisis meeting" to plan a comeback for the dogs.
A "red list" of unpopular types of dog includes other Scottish breeds such as the Dandie Dinmont terrier, named after a character in Sir Walter Scott's 1814 novel Guy Mannering, of which only 89 were registered with the Kennel Club last year, and the deerhound, 160 of which were registered.
Britain's breeders fear that dogs such as the Sealyham terrier, the smooth collie and the Welsh Cardigan corgi are being eclipsed in popularity by fashionable foreign breeds such as the shih tzu and Lhasa apso.
Paul Keevil, a member of the Kennel Club vulnerable breeds committee, said there was deep concern over the plight of each breed on the red list.
"The Skye terrier is the one that is giving us the greatest concern. We registered only 30 Skye terrier puppies last year, 100 per cent of those born. You compare that with labradors, of which 45,000 were born last year, and you can see the problem."
Mr Keevil said dogs such as the labrador and the cavalier King Charles were "the Ford Escort and the Vauxhall Astra" of the dog world. "They are easy to handle and low maintenance," he said. By comparison, the Skye terrier was more "like a Maserati".
Skye terriers are known for being difficult to train. As hunting dogs they are liable to ignore their owners when they have picked an interesting scent.
Sue Breeze, who owns 11 Skye terriers and has bred them at her home near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, for 26 years, yesterday issued a gloomy prognosis. "If we can't persuade young breeders to rear Skyes, I think the breed will disappear within 40 years," she said.
Mike Taylor, the secretary of the Skye Terrier Club, who lives on Skye with his wife and two Skye terriers, Amber and Megan, was more philosophical. "I really don't know why they have fallen out of favour, but breeds do come and go."
The iconic image of the Skye terrier is to be found in the story of Greyfriars Bobby, which told of the loyal companion of "Auld Jock" Gray, a Pentland Hills farmer who each market day dined at John Traill's restaurant in Greyfriars Place in Edinburgh's Grassmarket.
After Jock's death in 1858, Bobby supposedly continued to turn up for food at the restaurant when not pining on his master's grave. The story was turned into a popular novel by the American author Eleanor Atkinson in 1912. And last year Disney released a film version.
Unfortunately, this will provide little comfort to the breed. As Mr Keevil explained: "Disney didn't cast a Skye terrier; they went for a West Highland white terrier instead."