SOME OF THE country's top old English sheep dogs, ''imps that are bright, sensitive and loyal,'' have been bred and shown by Joyce and Bob Wetzler of Reisterstown for two decades.
In their Whisperwood Kennels, the couple owns 40 purebred top show winners including 2-year-old Cameron, officially named Champion Whisperwood's War Lord, who is the top old English sheep dog on the East Coast and fourth in the herding dog group, says Joyce Wetzler.
Also, the Wetzlers have several strays they have saved from the streets ''and spoiled,'' she says. They also own the Tail End boarding kennel where they keep and offer for adoption dogs that have been rescued by the Anti-Vivisection Society.
It all began in the '60s, says Joyce Wetzler, when ''I just happened to mention to Bob that I loved the old English sheep dog breed. He gave me one, and that started it.''
The Whisperwood sheep dogs have been winners in most of the prestigious dog shows nationwide since that time.
Last year, Cameron took best of breed at the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden in New York, and he is entered in this year's Westminster Feb. 11 and 12. Also, Wetzler has entered and will show 2-year-old Champion Whisperwood's Sir Lancelot, called Lance and co-owned with Colonel L.E. Haygood from Virginia.
Old English breed information is sketchy and can be traced back only about 150 years. Some believe it was bred in England from the bearded collie and possibly the Russian Owtscharka, which was bred from the Hungarian sheep dog. Most refer to the breed as old English but some say ''bobtail'' because its tail is completely docked at birth. Very few are born without a tail.
Wetzler describes her breed as having ''a very special personality. They are devoted dogs who are as silly as clowns. They tease and play. Just leave a towel on the table, or a toy, and they'll grab and shake it and run away wanting to play,'' she says.
Two years ago, the Wetzlers bought the Tail End Kennels on 20 acres at 6225 Glen Falls Road in Reisterstown, where they live and also operate their Whisperwood Kennels. The boarding kennels are for 125 dogs and 12 cats. ''All spaces, including those for cats, have covered indoor and outdoor runs, and there is 24-hour supervision,'' she says.
The couple has four grown sons, who ''love animals but are not involved with them the way we are. I am at the kennels all of the time, Bob is president of the Mid-Atlantic Photo Corp., which is a computer laser typesetting company,'' she says.
Several dogs live permanently in the Wetzlers' home, and those from the Whisperwood Kennels are rotated in turns to live in the house.
Permanent house residents include Patty, a German shepherd, and Dobey, a Doberman pinscher, who were once strays, plus a Whisperwood old English named Ch. Whisperwood's Whirlaway, called Sterling.
Beside their own rescue work, the Wetzlers also keep dogs for ''the Anti-Vivisection Society which are available for adoption. We have about 10, which include a darling little beagle, a black and white dog with flowing hair that resembles an Irish setter but has the coloring of a springer spaniel, and there is a precious shaggy dog and a wonderful Labrador mix,'' says Wetzler. ''Pat Ramsburg is manager of the boarding kennels, and for information about boarding or the adoptions, call her at 833-6767.''
Joyce Wetzler has advice for those who might want to own an old English sheep dog. ''It is so sad to see an ill-kept old English. The breed needs thorough grooming at least once each week. With a pin brush its coat should be brushed down to the skin in layer after layer.
''The rewards of owning the personality that is the old English are worth all the grooming there is. However, if weekly grooming is impossible for its owner, then he should keep the dog clipped to a sensible and manageable length. It is a disgrace when any dog is not considered important enough to care for as properly as any family member should be. Those who won't do not deserve the love of an animal.''
Boarding costs at Tail End Kennels is by the pound. A dog up to 25 pounds is $8 a day; to 50 is $9; to 75 is $10 and over that is $11. All cats are $6. Call 833-6767.