Sometimes you can take a dog to the races, but you can’t make him (or her) run.
Indeed, having “hims” and “hers” in proximity to each other made for some of the more lighthearted moments at Saturday’s National Wiener Dog Nationals, the dachshund races at Fort Wayne’s Headwaters Park that have been a highlight of Germanfest for the past 20 years.
Several of the 64 pairs of dogs that ran heats en route to the top prizes were much more interested in each other than in their handlers’ treats and toys at the other end of the racing chutes.
A few even sat down on the job, deciding it was beneath their dignity – and for a low-slung dachshund, that’s pretty low – to run on command.
When one dog’s competition failed to show up, the doxie decided the spectators were much more interesting than racing and wandered over to the fence to greet spectators before deigning to amble down the course. He was named the winner of the heat by default.
But some dogs were competitors from the start. One speedster, named Sheldon, got so excited whenever it was his turn to run, he let out a string of high-pitched yips that made him immediately recognizable to spectators – and caused race announcer Billy Elvis to remark that if he were a betting man, he’d put his money on the mouthy dog.
Another pup, named Mojo, was so pumped when he won one of his heats he snatched away his competitor’s dog biscuit reward.
Mojo’s first-heat competition, Annie, entered by Paul and Leann Walters of Fort Wayne, looked deceivingly fast. She came dressed in a costume that had a tiny jockey mounted on her back to make her look like a racehorse.
Alas, she was no match for Mojo’s, well, mojo.
Nonetheless, Annie’s owners were proud of her. She’s at least 12 years old, Leann Walters said – and that’s 84 in human years.
“This is her third race, and she’s never won. But she waddles down and has a good time,” she said.
Mojo, entered by Sheila Richey of Fort Wayne, finally faced off with a dog named Sherwood, entered by Chad Schiebel and Amber Vachon of Fort Wayne, for top honors of the first round of 32. The two tied twice, with judges saying the races were too close to call.
But Mojo won the third try, after Schiebel remarked to the crowd that his panting little hot dog “was done.”
Still, the loss wasn’t hard to take. It was, after all, the 1 1/2 -year-old pup’s first race, and Schiebel and Vachon hadn’t really done anything special to train him.
“But he does loops around the house all the time. He runs around everything, couches, beds. He slides across the floor. We call it the Sherwood 500,” Vachon said.
The couple theorized that the dog might be overcompensating in trying to keep up with the other dog in the household, a Great Dane named Rockne.
“As in Knute,” the legendary University of Notre Dame football coach, Schiebel said.
Nikki Jasperson, promotions director for Federated Media who helps coordinate the event, said it remains popular. This year’s field filled up about a month ago, Jasperson said.
Dogs from around the region and several states come to compete for top dog, which this year went to Lily Kate, entered by Ohio resident Christine Moser.
Mojo was second, as he was last year, Sherwood took third and Reesie, entered by Lauri Fritz of Fort Wayne, took fourth.
“We have perfect weather and attendance is wonderful,” Jasperson said at the midway point of the races. “What more could you ask?”