I Wish Westies Were Ugly

Or at least not so darn cute. Maybe so many of them wouldn’t end up in rescue if they looked like this:

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And I wish ad agencies would stop choosing the Westie as their adorable pitch-pup for whatever brand of dog merchandise they are trying to sell.

Because here’s the deal: people see these cute little white bundles and think “oh, how adorable!!” Next thing you know, they’ve rushed out to buy one without realizing the first thing about what they are actually bringing home. And a few years later, after health and temperament problems have driven everybody to the edge, Westie Rescue gets called in.

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Westies might be the cutest little things you’ve ever seen in their fluffy white advertising guise but deep down, these are terriers, people!

OK, so maybe I don’t really wish Westies were ugly. Instead I wish their potential owners would thoroughly check out the breed before deciding it is the dog for them.

Here are the breed characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier:

  • Quick, alert, and intelligent
  • Energetic
  • Fiercely independent
  • Energetic
  • Social, loyal, and affectionate
  • Energetic
  • Stubborn

Did I mention energetic? Bred as ratters on farms and ranches in Scotland, it’s in their genetic code to be intelligent, independent thinkers. They are not passive lap dogs! I can’t imagine a worse scenario for a little Westie than to be sitting all day in an apartment looking out a window waiting for somebody to come home. Truly that would be the equivalent to canine hell on earth. There are other cute little white breeds out there much better suited to a quiet, less active lifestyle.

Thank goodness for reputable breeders who screen potential buyers of their puppies. But far too many Westies come onto the market through puppy mills, just like the hell hole from which the Tennessee Seven were rescued, and go into pet stores. And then anybody with enough cash can buy the dog, no questions asked.

There are two main reasons we see Westies come into rescue:

Health issues. Westies are prone to skin allergies and cheap dog food is a main culprit for setting those allergies afire. This is the least upsetting image I could find of a Westie just torn apart from the horrible itching and scratching. Believe me, this is not that bad compared to what often arrives.


Behavior issues: Well, yeah. Many of these “bad” dogs deemed uncontrollable by their owners are simply behaving as they’ve been bred to do. If they are not properly exercised and disciplined, they will take over the house. Both of mine have had their moments where we’ve had to let them know, quite firmly, just who is boss in this house.

The adorable little white furball image is misleading. In fact, it is a giant case of false advertising. Here is a much more realistic image of who a Westie really is deep down in his little terrier heart:


I have a couple heartbreaking stories of  Westies who were brought into our foster care too late and didn’t make it. But let’s not go there today. I want to share a happy story with you of a rescue Westie girl who seemed to be on her last legs.

Bailey came to us through a kill shelter. She had been dropped off at the shelter by her original owner in very bad shape and adopted by somebody almost immediately. That person returned her to the pound lickety-split after a visit to the vet. The vet had advised putting her down because of her condition. She was loaded with infections in her ears and eyes and her skin was just ablaze with itching.

I will spare you photographs of her condition when she arrived. The sight of her infected eyes made my stomach wobbly, if you know what I mean.

A few months of good quality food, eye drops, medicated shampoos, and look at her:


Bailey in the garden after a nice grooming.



Bailey was now ready for adoption.  And, boy, did she hit the jackpot. Her “furever” home was with a lady on Long Island who had served nationally in Westie Rescue and couldn’t wait to bring a new pup into her fold. Bailey continued to need treatment for her eyes and, sadly, we learned she did become deaf. But her Westie spirit was indomitable, and she lived out the rest of her days, another five or six years, pampered and cherished.


Bailey with her toy, Elly, living the good life in Long Island.

If you’re thinking about getting a Westie, please remember that in their little terrier hearts, they really want to look like this:

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They want to run, dig, bark at squirrels, go for walks, terrorize other dogs at the dog park, and take over the household. They don’t ask for much in return: a quality dog food, regular vet visits, a good stomp every day, a little love.

If you know of somebody who is overwhelmed by the expense and responsibility of caring for their dog, no matter the breed, urge them to contact rescue organizations. There is no shame in giving the dog up, but there is in allowing them to degrade to the point they can’t be saved.

And for sure there are good, responsible Westie owners who are doing all the right things and still dealing with skin and other health issues. You’re not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the throw-away Westies, the ones that didn’t live up to their marketing image and ended up in the shelters. For them, I write this. For Cody and Jack and far too many others…..

Thanks for reading,

Proud Westie Mom
















About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
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55 Responses to I Wish Westies Were Ugly

  1. Diane Ahlberg says:

    Heartwrenching pictures – every dog should come with all the information you just passed along, especially terriers- known for their spunk!
    This leaves me angry that people that run out to buy any breed of cute puppies must realize how much work they are , how expensive a trip to the vet is, and these puppies grow up to be dogs with much needed attention. I wish everyone thinking about getting any puppy thinks long and hard about the commitment they are about to undertake.


    • The problem is further complicated by the whole puppy mill issue. Good breeders do a great job of weeding out potentially unfit owners but the puppy mills sell to the pet stores and you know how that goes. Visa or American Express is about the only question they ask.


  2. markbialczak says:

    It’s a sin when ill-suited owners take home a breed and quickly blame the dog, Barbara.

    Thanks for your step in the education process. I never knew of the Westie problem until right now.


    • Yes, a sin, particularly because they are so vulnerable to us. Just last week, Westie Rescue Southeast went to Missouri where a dozen Westies were being auctioned off from a puppy mill. They managed to rescue eleven of them. I know you have a rescue dog too, Mark.


      • markbialczak says:

        Yes, our beloved Ellie B was left on the front step of the Rome Humane Society here in upstate New York. When the workers came to work in the morning, there the puppy was sitting and waiting for somebody to love her. We fell for her after spotting her in her orange “Adopt Me” vest at a big Dog Rescue fund-raising event, Barbara.


      • And I am happy that at least she was given that much of a chance. There are other puppies that meet a much worse fate. Lucky Ellie B to hit the doggie lotto and end up with you and your wife.


      • markbialczak says:

        🙂 Lucky for us, too, Barbara. Lucky for us.


  3. Sue Mayo says:

    Berkley and Max are two lucky guys. They are right where they belong. Lots of space to run, dig holes, get dirty and at the end of the day, have a loving home to crash in.


  4. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Barbara, Love Westie’s as you know. Why oh ,why do people abandon them when the poor animal has health problems when they need to be loved and taken care of even more, just as humans do. My little Westie name ‘ Tilly” had leukemia and her medication was costing a fortune but that didn’t matter, I would have paid the earth so that she was comfortable during her illness and last days. I wish I had her now. Love your photos, Barbara, and Bailey is adorable.


    • This is where it gets tricky, Rita, and often plays out like this: The owners find themselves with an increasingly unhealthy dog but don’t have the money to go the vet. Really. I’ve seen it over and over. And when they finally do go, they can’t afford the $35 medicated shampoo, the $40 bag of dog food, the antibiotics, etc. So they do nothing and hope things will improve on their own. And when it gets so bad that the dog is in desperate shape, they finally call rescue. Often they don’t turn them in for a long time because they are ashamed of the dog’s condition which just adds to the problem. It has to be handled really diplomatically because if the owner feels he is going to be judged and/or chastised, he’ll hang up the phone and we’ll never get a hold of the Westie.


      • Oh, and Rita, I am not making excuses for them. I have driven home with a sick Westie in the back of my car after a handover feeling murderous, believe me!!


      • ritaroberts says:

        Yes I understand Barbara, You get to see both sides of the stories. It is so heart breaking isn’t it. Thanks to people like yourself and two of our friends here I have mentioned before, who do the same work as yourselves, that our lovely pet animals get a 2nd maybe 3rd chance in life. I love the happy endings as I know you must do. So a BIG THANKS TO YOU for all your hard work. from us all.


  5. nrhatch says:

    This was eye-opening for me, Barbara. I had no idea that the little Cesar dogs were such terrors . . . oops, I mean, terriers. 😎

    Getting the right pet is wonderful. Getting the wrong pet is a disaster in action. Thanks for the work you do on the Westies behalf.


  6. dorannrule says:

    I never knew all that about Westies. Your story should be published in a dog magazine! It’s so sad when an adoption fails due to unexpected health conditions or habits peculiar to the breed. One of our Goldens came to us as a puppy with Hip Dysplasia requiring extensive treatment (a sometimes overlooked condition peculiar to Goldens and other large dog breeds). She was worth every penny of course, and lived with us to a ripe old age.


    • And you and your husband were able to afford this extensive treatment, thankfully. That’s why I am so opposed to puppy mills/pet stores as a venue for dog purchases. They don’t screen potential buyers.And I just love Goldens too. My sister had one, Sandy, that was partially responsible for my learning to love dogs rather late in life.


  7. Jane says:

    Tears over here…


    • Oh, Jane, not my intent, honey. Just want to get the word out how important picking the right breed for your family (and your pocketbook) actually is. And there are lots more happy endings than sad ones. XXX


  8. My French Heaven says:

    You are so right! Stubborn is the word! Super cute though and so damn smart 🙂 Mine is getting so old. I hope she makes it at least another year… She is 14…


    • Oh, how I know what you’re feeling. My Berkley is 14 also, turning 15 in December. He’s really slowing down and can’t do the things he used to do. And the summer heat really drags him down. Yes, let’s hope we have another year at least.


  9. It’s wise to check if your potential furry companion and you and a good match. If you hate exercise, you sure don’t want a breed that wants to get out and run. Thanks for letting people know, Barbara.

    My daughter and her husband have a rescue Sheltie mix. They worked with the dog, trained him and now have a very loving companion. It’s a shame to know that he was given up at least once before they adopted him.


  10. I’d like to have puppy mills outlawed…we have had two bitches dumped by them when too exhausted by repeated pregnancies to be of any more use….lovely ladies both when looked after and fed – not Westies though!


    • Hello Helen. Me too! The tragedy is that many of their practices are illegal but nobody monitors them. It’s a disgrace on so many levels. Last month I brought a puppy mill rescue out to Denver for my sister to adopt. This little girl had LOTS of strange behaviors — afraid of doors, snatching food and running away from her bowl, that sort of thing. Did you have a long adjustment period with your two?


      • They were both fine from day one.
        One, a little blind spaniel, had been dumped on the bank of the river that ran through our garden – in mid winter….
        The other, a Fauve de Bretagne, was dumped beside a busy road….
        The ear tattoos confirmed in both cases that they were from puppy mills…but the vet decided that they were ‘too blurred to be read’, so we could keep them.


      • Oh, I LOVE a cooperative vet!! That is the best story and kudos to you for taking these precious girls in. I do love a happy ending.


      • They gave us a lot of love…darling girls.


  11. Wonderful post! Thank you, thank you! So many people do ZERO research and the poor dog suffers! I have my rescues and many of my friends have rescues and it is amazing the damage that can be done to an animals psyche if you don’t know how to treat them.


    • Well, thank you very much, MtM. And it does boggle the mind to consider the people who just impulsively buy a dog with, as you say, ZERO research. We were the opposite side of the spectrum….researching Westie books and talking to folks who had them…..and I still felt ill-prepared. Oh well, I guess we all do what we can in this life, right? Thanks for reading.


  12. Betsy says:

    Berkley and Maxx are sooo lucky to have you and Roger as parents! They are spoiled rotten and so adorable!!! Match made in heaven!! Great article…


  13. Parnassus says:

    Hello Barbara, Taiwan has this problem also. Many pet shops sell cute puppies, which are later abandoned by overwhelmed owners, or worse, shut up alone in apartments all day, so that they bark incessantly–a torture for both dogs and neighbors.

    I am glad to see your loving and common-sense approach to this situation.


    • Hello Jim, it just enrages me when people treat their dogs as accessories instead of actual beings capable of feeling just about everything we do. I don’t talk about this much on my blog, but our daughter is disabled due to brain injury from seizures. When she has one, it is amazing how both dogs circle her with their tails wagging in alarm and Max will try to lick her face. So I am convinced of the extreme sensitivity dogs have in so many ways and agonize for the ones treated the way you describe.

      The last time we were in Taiwan, our hosts drove us around the island – starting and ending in Taipei. And we noticed the ubiquitous medium-sized black dogs with pointed ears. In every hamlet we drove through, there they’d be running free doing whatever it is Taiwanese dogs do all day. Have you noticed this “breed?” Good to hear from you, as always. Barbara


  14. Barbara, what a well written piece!

    Dogs bought merely to be shown off are starting to appear here in Phnom Penh as the city develops. Mostly they are trucked in from Bangkok and buyers have no idea really what they are getting or what the real condition of the puppy is.(Vet checks/shots are rare) Many die shortly after being sold, I understand.

    Many Cambodians have little idea of how to look after these dogs, or any dog, anyway and frankly more than a few simply don’t care…


    • Thank you, Philip. Yes, I saw disturbing attitudes towards dogs in Asia, particularly in China. I had to push the concern out of my mind – and remind myself that I wasn’t in Kansas any more. Hope life is treating you well in Cambodia.


  15. Your article was very informative. I enjoyed it. We’ve had more cats than dogs, so I’m not familiar with many of the breeds. I do have some Scottish heritage, though, so I’m familiar with the westie characteristics.

    When we lived in the Philippines we had a pair of English beagles. Such a delight–very good looking and always enthusiastic for the next adventure. Our only problem was that the female developed a rash, and no matter how many creams I applied, we couldn’t get rid of it. A scientist friend finally suggested that she might be allergic to meat, so we started feeding her fish instead. And sure enough, her rash disappeared.


  16. Beautifully written Barbara- Love the photos of your little Westies covered in mud. Dirty but happy 😉 Sounds much like caring for an active little boy 😉 Best wishes, WG


  17. kristieinbc says:

    I just found your blog through Helen Devries’ blog. It was the picture of you with your Westie that made me click the link with the comment you left there! I have a 2 ½ year old Westie that I adore. I want to say how much I appreciate your post. If only every potential dog buyer of any breed, not just Westies, could read this. My Fergus has had the classic Westie skin issues in spite of eating a high quality dog food, special shampoo, and multiple visits to the vet. We finally resorted to medication and it has completely changed his life. I’m curious about what brand of dog food you use.??


    • Hi Kristie. One of my concerns in writing this post was that somebody like you, a responsible and loving Westie owner, might misconstrue my intent and feel I was implying only bad owners have sick Westies. We know that is not true and that lots of Westies have skin issues even when given the best of care as you certainly have done. It is such a mystery why some are so much more susceptible than others. My dogs get absolutely no people food and I feed them Iams Naturals Grain Free. They also get a dollop of Caesar’s wet food or a sprinkling of cheese which they adore. The really sick Westies we’ve fostered have been put on prescription dog foods made with pheasant or turkey and sweet potato. Iams is not anything exceptional but my boys have no skin issues and I attribute that to luck more than anything else. Also, they are not really prime specimens….neither would ever make it as a show dog and often the really perfect little Westies seem to have more issues with skin, I’ve seen. My boys never get whitened and only get shampooed when they get pretty darn filthy. Sorry not to be of more help to you, it sounds as if you are doing exactly the right things and I hope your precious Fergus continues to improve.


  18. Hello, I just found your lovely blog through Jennings and Gates’ blog. This post really resonates with me. My daughter, a 2nd year vet student, wrestled with death to rescue an abandoned little white dog that was probably a product of a puppy mill and wound up with someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of her. It took a full year to get her healthy. We named her Pumpkin and she is now very happy. Spends a lot of time in Gram’s (my) garden, and her picture appears from time to time on my blog.

    I fully agree that puppy mills should be outlawed.

    Your Westies are adorable!


    • Good morning, Linda. I have just spent a good deal of time perusing your beautiful blog in a quest to find Pumpkin but kept getting distracted by gorgeous shots of old houses and Charleston gardens and snow scenes!! Finally I found her and she is darling. Unimaginable how anybody could let this precious dog suffer so. Thank heavens your daughter found her. Really, I just get murderously angry at the people who commit such horrible offenses against these helpless, vulnerable creatures. I guess all we can do is save what comes across our path. Thanks for reading, Linda.


  19. Thank you so much for writing this post, and your photos. I had a Jack Russell terrier who was amazing, entertaining, full of life. I’ve heard they used to be ratters too. His best friend was a rescued rabbit. She adored him, but didn’t like humans much. I loved his excitable personality. I can’t imagine any terrier being a lap dog. They think they’re larger than life-and they are. I’ve been learning about puppy mills and diets. I cannot believe some of the things that are put in dog food. I’ve never bought the canned stuff. I’ve also read about vegetarian dogs who live to be thirty and that humans and dogs once had the same life span. I get outraged and tearful when I hear of mistreatment of any living creature. And dogs give us so much love. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


    • So pleased you enjoyed and that you are another person who is aware and caring for our little furry friends. Jacks are great little dogs – so full of energy and personality. Thanks for reading and commenting.


  20. Outlier Babe says:

    Excellent post. Not only Westies, of course, but many terriers have an…independent, active personality. That is why I like them so much. They’re such little cusses sometimes.

    But you of course know the problem is so much bigger than mismatched owners and dogs. When I taught in East L.A., one year one of my students announced that his family hadn’t wanted their new puppy any more, so they’d tossed it out the window of their car, around the corner from the school. The other fifth-graders did not see anything untoward in this.

    When my then-husband and I bought a house in a mixed black-Latino neighborhood in a (failed) gentrification effort, there was a dog kept in the property behind who was left all day with no food or water–in Los Angeles summer heat! The poor shepherd was flea-infested and missing patches of fur. The response back then from SPCA was discouraging: “If we responded to every mistreated dog in that neighborhood, we’d have to go to every house.”

    We need to reach and reteach, a less-literate. in any language, population. I wish… I wish we still had children’s shows with positive, responsible programming, and PSAs, and some of these focussed on empathy: For other people, and animals.

    (Let’s add child-rearing PSAs, while we’re dreaming, for the parents sitting next to their kids!)


    • Stories like yours of the puppy tossed from a window and the shepherd left to suffer make me almost murderous with rage. I have to focus, instead, on all of the good people doing good work to save the lives of vulnerable, innocent animals. And yet in the back of mind, the images you describe lurk….there’s no escaping the cruelty and stupidity of our fellow man, is there?


  21. I’m so happy your relationship with adorable Bailey has turned out so well. They are assuredly one of the cutest of the terriers and it’s no wonder their pictures are used so often. I know about their famous digestive problems. Our little neighbor Westie, Charlie2 (He HAD to be called Charlie 2 because OUR JRT Charlie is number 1) came to the end of a long close relationship with his Vet. There was always something wrong and the neighbor tried everything, but last week, just before Christmas, Charlie 2 had to go to sleep. We will miss his small furry self waddling down the street after his person.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I am so fortunate that my two Westies are (were) so healthy. Our beloved Berkley died on October 28, but he was almost fifteen. Essentially, he died of old age and had a wonderful life. Max, our younger Westie, is the very picture of robust health. But you know, neither of them are perfect Westie specimens….they’d never make it in a dog show…and sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a connection between their “imperfections” and their good health. I’m referring to the tendency to breed for appearance rather than health. RIP, sweet Charlie 2.


  23. reocochran says:

    You do such wonderful work in taking and fostering Westies. Bailey is so adorable in this photo and thank you for not showing us the festering eyes. I hated to see the scratches on the poor dog’s back, it was enough to get my eyes tearing up! You are a lovely and gifted person with such an open heart to so many creatures, Barb! I loved looking back to remind myself of these pet loving gifts you share with the poor ‘lost pups.’ Hugs, Robin


  24. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Barbara, I have been wondering if you were O.K. as I have not seen a blog of yours lately.
    Bailey is adorable and I was so pleased he found a good home. I finely relented just before Xmas and had another rescue dog. Read all about him on my blog. Title TAKIS SHELTER. Lovely to hear from you again.

    Liked by 1 person

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