On the count of three, the doggy-gates will lift and a stampede of pups will race across the field at Wolf Pen Creek for the 2019 Wiener Dog & Wanna Be Races this weekend.
Wienerspiel is a non-profit humane society dedicated to raising funds for other non-profit organizations that help homeless and neglected animals in the Bryan-College Station. Through Aggieland involvement, doggy bowl painting and annual 5k walks, the Wienerspiel committee seeks to promote the human-animal bond waiting inside every adoption center’s walls. This weekend’s festivities will kick off on Friday with Wiener Dog & Wanna Be Boot Camp at 5 p.m., followed by the races, costume contest, and on-site food and boutique vendors on Saturday and Sunday.
With over 40 years invested in animal rescue, Judy LeUnes, Class of 1976 and founder and president of Wienerspiel, has sought to bring the community a kinder, safer form of entertainment than what the animal racing world is accustomed to.
“I started when I had two young dachshunds that we were racing throughout the state just for fun,” LeUnes said. “We started learning that some people use steroids on their dogs. ... I watched those greyhounds walk out with their [handlers], and they’re walking so sad because they’re not their pets. Then I saw them chasing that fake rabbit, and at the end people won money. I just thought those dogs look so sad.”
After her bad day at the track, LeUnes sought to create an environment where dogs leap into the arms of their owners at the end of a race, and the only parties receiving any money are other non-profit organizations. LeUnes said watching wiener dogs run is also wonderfully amusing.
“Dachshunds are funny because they’re not built to run,” LeUnes said. ”I mean [terriers] look normal running, but dachshunds... It’s just a stick and they look like bunnies in the pictures because they hop and then their ears go up. It’s just funny.”
In recent years, Wienerspiel has opened its gates to larger dogs as well, with each dog-contestant categorized by weight and placed in one of three racing divisions. However, LeUnes has some of her own fur in the races this weekend.
“I have wiener dogs and a one eyed chihuahua that’s running in the Special Olympian race,” LeUnes said. “He’s seventeen, his name is Wienkie. He’ll be running against his sister, B., who is a dachshund, but she’s deaf and 15. We’ll see if we get a good sibling rivalry going there.”
Tyra Watts, Class of 2008 and secretary of the Wienerspiel board, said she is proud to work in a field where wholesome family entertainment meets animal appreciation.
“Part of our mission is to promote the human-animal bond,” Watts said. “When you watch the costume contest or this, it doesn't matter if they’re first place or last place. That pet parent picks them up with a kiss or a hug. It's about getting people out here and sharing those healthy relationships and bonding with their pets.”
While the sight of scampering pups is one to behold, Watts said educating the public on animal care has always been a top priority, even in the Bryan Independent School District.
“I work in a higher poverty part of town,” Watts said. “My students just see dogs chained up, and they don’t know what it’s like to have a birthday party or sleep with your dog. Judy’s retired, and she’ll come into the schools and she’ll take Remy, her therapy and rescue dog, and read to the kids. It’s a little-bitty dachshund, and the kids are just terrified because they never formed those relationships. That carries over to their relationships with people too.”
With the first heat of races mere hours away, political science sophomore and head intern Stephanie Munson said she is ready for the committee’s year-long preparation to finally pay off.
“For the most part, what I’m excited for this weekend is the experience to work with nonprofit organizations,” Munson said. “I really want to go into nonprofit administration, so having the opportunity to actually work with a nonprofit and be treated as an equal on their board … It’s just a truly valuable experience.”
On-site registration is $30 to enter a racing contestant and $15 to enter the costume contest. Public Admission to watch the event is free.