The long run
Wiener Fest showcases lengthy dogs in short sprints
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 01:10
Competitive racing is no longer reserved for Thoroughbreds or Greyhounds. Instead, short-legged, long dogs of German descent have nuzzled their way into the sport and show no sign of retreat. Dachshund racing, better known as “Wienier Racing,” has earned a prominent spot in College Station, and competitors are gearing up for the heat as the sixth annual Wiener Fest approaches this Saturday.
Enter Vito is a 12-pound, six-year-old Miniature Dachshund with four-inch legs and a zeal for running. Vito began competing in wiener races at the age of two and he’s been unstoppable ever since.
“I just thought we would do it for fun, but he turned out to be pretty good,” said Vito’s owner, Jeremy O’Sullivan. “He was winning and placing very high. So I started searching for other wiener races online to compete in.”
O’Sullivan discovered Vito’s talent during his first Wiener Fest experience in 2008. Vito has competed in more than 20 dachshund races and has secured many top titles. He holds a record at the Sam Houston Race Park Wiener Dog Races for earning three first place titles and two second place titles. Last year Vito earned a Top 10 spot at the Buda Wiener Dog Race, the largest race in Texas, where more than 700 dachshunds competed.
This year O’Sullivan is expecting Vito to excel even further.
“Last year at Wiener Fest, Vito came in second place. This year, we’re hoping he takes first,” O’Sullivan said.
While O’Sullivan doesn’t have a strict method of training Vito, he does have one time-tested regimen: a game of fetch with Vito’s favorite squeaky toy.
“I take him with me when I go running sometimes, but he doesn’t really like long distance. We play fetch in the pasture so he can practice his speed,” O’Sullivan said. “Running in the pasture has its advantages because it’s coarse and challenging. When Vito runs on the track after running in the grass, it’s a breeze for him.”
Vito, normally a calm dog, becomes hysterical upon seeing his squeaky toy. O’Sullivan waves it around to get Vito charged up and ready to run.
“He’s a completely different dog when you bring out the squeaky toy,” he said.
While this training method suits Vito and O’Sullivan, other Dachshund racers rely on different methods.
Judy LeUnes, Class of 1976 and Wiener Fest Founder, has raced dachshunds in Buda, Texas, and Austin. When training, she recommends focusing on getting the dog to run in a straight line.
“It takes two people. One puts the dog in a crate, opens it and has the pet run to the other person. Getting the dog to run in a straight line is best,” LeUnes said. “Dogs that run straight are the dogs that win. It’s not always the skinny ones.”
The chairs of Wiener Fest do not enforce this rule, however. Dogs are allowed to run outside of their lanes.
“Anyone who has owned a Dachshund knows that they are extremely hard to train anyway,” said Wiener Fest co-chair Weslie Johnson. “So training them to stay within two stripes would take an obscene amount of time. At Wiener Fest, some dogs are highly trained and stay in the lanes, some get a little out. We like to think that this is a good balance between fun and trained.”
The boxes the dogs are released from are custom-built and made from chain-linked fence. The track, too, is surrounded by chain-linked fence to ensure the dogs do not escape.
“Everything is about safety. There is double fencing and the crowd is distanced from the track,” LeUnes said.
The Dachshund races at Wiener Fest are split into four divisions: males, females, handicapped and seniors dogs (10 years and older). The males and females will run 70 feet, and the handicapped and senior dogs will run 10 ft. Two years ago, the Wanna-be-a-Wiener division was introduced in order to be inclusive of more pets and pet owners. This division is split into two weight classes, less than 40 pounds and more than 40 pounds.
“It’s all good fun. What I love is watching the human-animal bond. At the finish line, everybody gets picked up and kissed, and it’s just wonderful,” LeUnes said.
Pet owners are allowed to lure their dogs to the finish line with anything but food. LeUnes said she has seen more than squeaky toys since Wiener Fest’s beginning.
“Pet -parents are jumping up and down and waving everything from hats to dirty underwear,” LeUnes said. “Whatever gets their attention.”
Wiener Fest also consists of a 5K-morning run for humans and dogs, costume contests, a pet parade, a kids’ zone with free activities, food, vendors and informative presentations throughout the day. Volunteers make up the majority of the festival’s staff.
“It takes 400 volunteers and about 300 are Aggies. We couldn’t do it without the students,” LeUnes said.
Wiener Fest is the largest fundraiser for the Aggieland Humane Society. The funds raised this Saturday will be put toward building a new shelter at their new location on Leonard Road.
“We are looking to expand to a very large adoption center for dogs and animals to have a better quality of life,” Johnson said. “We want room for people to come and play individually with each animal. We have a very grand vision.”
Johnson said The Aggieland Humane Society has big plans for the future of Wiener Fest.
“Last year, the Parks Department estimated that we had 6,500 people attend the event,” Johnson said. “It is called a festival after all and a festival should be more than one day. Perhaps a two-day or three-day event. We’re trying to make it the best we can.”
For those who aren’t sure if their dog is able to race, Wiener Boot Camp will be held in Wolf Pen Creek on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for dogs and owners to practice.
Wiener Fest will be held at Wolf Pen Creek on Saturday.