Meet America’s metaphor, the racing dachshund. Meet the biggest underdog of them all.
Modeled on a standard cannoli, with legs like baby cigars, a wiener dog doesn’t waste steps. With wheels like that, he’s also no one’s idea of a four-star recruit. Won’t ever rock the Rose Bowl or thrill an Olympic crowd.
Yet, stunningly quick, he can also cover 40 yards in a time somewhere between a musket ball and an NFL cornerback. Or, if he’s not in the mood, he’ll cover 40 yards not at all.
On Saturday night, 90 of them faced off in the 22nd Nationals at Los Alamitos Race Course, to raise money for a Seal Beach animal center. What we really had, though, was the Super Bowl of Sausage.
Where there are typically 1,500 spectators in the jury box, there were 10,000, and not a seat to be had. There was the murmur of Churchill Downs about the old place, and women wore big, funky hats, as if it were the Derby.
The purse was nothing to sniff at either: $2,300.
Somehow, these annual dachshund races have become “a thing,” in the same way Burning Man or the NFL draft have. It’s the novelty of it, sure, but they fill some sort of celebratory need. Like the Kardashians, they pander to our thirst for something mindless and cheap (admission 3 bucks).
“Just because you’re short doesn’t mean you’re small,” explained an owner.
“It’s just hilarious,” explains Roberta Greenberg of Torrance, who has entered the race the last couple of years, using only stinky sardines as compensation, her Gracie’s favorite treat.
It is hilarious, sure, a clown car of a race, where sometimes the participants dart straight to the finish line 50 yards away; or sometimes, they just pause to mingle among themselves.
It’s also a tribute to what pets do for us and what we will do for them.
The sentimental favorite this night is a specimen by the name of Lady Bug, or just “Bug,” to her legions of fans.
Lady Bug is the sentimental favorite because on New Year’s Eve 2014, she was dumped at a Riverside shelter, her back end worthless, her outlook dire.
After a series of handoffs — including an assist from L.A. Dachshund Rescue — she arrived in the hands of Deanna O’Neil.
O’Neil, a vet at the CARE rehab clinic in L.A., didn’t think Lady Bug needed to be put down, as others had. She detected enough sensation in the dog’s hindquarters to attempt a resurrection, using acupuncture, physical therapy, even a water treadmill.
During the course of the therapy, O’Neil became so smitten with Bug that she ended up adopting her, the first dog she’s ever done that with.
“She chose me,” the vet said.
So, Saturday night, in the comeback of comebacks, in a mashup of every sports cliché you’ve ever heard, Lady Bug took on seven other dachshunds in Trial No. 6, approximate post time 8:09 p.m.
Keep in mind that Lady Bug is still not clockwork — maybe only 80% recovered. There is some slippage, and where the front end goes, the back end doesn’t always follow. But yes, she is 13 pounds of grit, heart and gusto, racing on dirt that brushed up against her belly.
From the post position, Bug bolted, broke hard to her right, then hugged the tractor wheel ruts on the far outside. It’s nowhere you want to be in a serious race like this, and had she a jockey aboard, he’d have shouldered her hard back into contention.
But there was no jockey, just Lady Bug on her own, ears flapping, tongue out in anticipation of the oversized box of Cheez-Its her owner-savior was waving at the finish line.
The winning time was about 7 seconds. Lady Bug was nowhere near that. She was closer, by my watch, to 45 seconds — last in the field and No. 1 in your heart (I told you it was a mash-up).
Finishing first in the finals later in the evening was Baby Bo, owned by Kat and Eddie Kirshner of Costa Mesa. Baby Bo was a standby, and made the field only when another dog scratched (sorry, a certain number of puns are unavoidable).
Last I saw them, the Kirshners and Bo were headed to the Winners’ Circle to collect the $1,000 first prize.
Last I saw Lady Bug, she was headed back to her Redondo Beach home, to snuggle with a big box of Cheez-Its.
As they say, real wieners never quit.