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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Daniel Richie prepares his dog Max to race in the Wiener Dog Nationals at Headwaters park Saturday afternoon.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Max, owned by Daniel Richie, takes off down the chute Saturday afternoon during the Wiener Dog Nationals at Headwaters Park.

Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Wiener dog champ victorious again

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Just call Gary a two-time wiener.

At Saturday afternoon's annual National Wiener Dog Finals at Germanfest, the low-slung speedster from Fort Wayne nosed out all the competition – for the second year in a row.

“He loves running,” said his handler, Nick Russell, 29, of Fort Wayne after the 5-year-old mini-doxie came in ahead of a dog named Ellie, entered by Lindsay Worrel of Fort Wayne.

“He can play fetch for days.”

The extra energy was a good thing, as it took two tries to get a clear winner in the final heat of the day. During the first race between Gary and Ellie, they both took off cleanly.

But then they both got distracted at the end of the chute, and neither actually crossed the finish line, which is just par for the course, as these dogs run, or often don't, on a whim.

The signal “Ready, set, go!” was ignored by some dachshunds who'd rather get pets from their handlers – or check out their competition – than dash 50 feet.

But a pup named Archie wasn't finicky as he raced down the chute to win his first heat.

“He just loves me and he loves his squeaky ball,” said owner Jill Rodriguez, 51, of Fort Wayne, after successfully luring the 3-year-old, the second-place finisher last year, to run faster than his competition, Daisy.

Rodriguez credited the victory to the toy's noise that was loud enough for the dog to hear over the crowd of at least 300 onlookers and a nearby polka band.

Saturday's weather had many participants periodically checking their cellphones – organizers of the races postponed their start for more than two hours as skies threatened. But no rain actually occurred during the delay.

Katie Nau, a Germanfest volunteer working the races, said the dogs and their owners were provided shelter under the festival pavilion as a “safety-first” precaution.

The delay did deter some competitors, whittling down the field from about 120 dogs to 66, who competed for top prizes of PetSmart gift cards and race T-shirts.

Gary has raced every year since he was a puppy, making Saturday's races his fourth, said his co-handler, Mariah Lopez, 26, of Fort Wayne.

Lopez, carrying the couple's second dachshund, Sasha, said that dog lost to Gary when inadvertently paired against him in the first heat.

But bragging rights are only part of why she and Russell and their pups keep coming back.

“It's fun watching them run,” she said.

rsalter@jg.net