The fastest hot dog in Burbank is not at any food stand.
No, the fastest wiener around is in our back yard, and her name is Gracie. This is not just an owner's boast; Gracie was the sole entrant from this circulation area in this year's Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals at Los Alamitos Race Course.
The race, held on Saturday at the Orange County track, featured 80 dachshunds vying for the title of "Fastest Wiener in the West." Proceeds help the Seal Beach Animal Care Center find homes for stray animals.
I had no idea what was ahead when my wife Roberta declared in 2008, "We're now living in a house in the suburbs with a fenced backyard. We should have a dog." I asked if there was a particular breed she had in mind. Pausing, she offered, "Maybe a dachshund?"
And so it began. Our first was a black and tan rescue named Theo. A year later we got Gracie, an energetic auburn rescue (a "red" in doxie parlance) usually found scouring for food crumbs. In June we added Georgie, yet another rescue.
This spring, Roberta decided Gracie should enter the Wiener Nationals. Gracie can be lightning-fast, especially if food is involved, so this was not an unrealistic notion. Entrants are selected via creative essays submitted by their owners, and Roberta successfully played up the rags-to-riches angle of our rescued pooch.
Training consisted of my wife and a friend, Jennifer Hales Yandoli, using Gracie's favorite treat: a stick of string cheese. As the wrapper is slowly peeled, Gracie's dog-lips literally quiver, and Jennifer simply holds her at one end of our practice path in Glendale while Roberta waves the cheese. The rest is a canine blur.
Race day: The dogs in the ten trial races wore harnesses of various colors, not unlike the silks worn by the horses and jockeys who raced the same evening. Each dog was placed into one of eight slots in a long bin, with a swing-up barrier acting as starting gate. At the other end of the course, owners shouted their dogs' names while waving treats or toys, as most (but not all) doxies ran toward them.
As Gracie was placed into her slot, Roberta waved a cheese stick, and hurried to her position. The gate was raised, and Scamp from Irvine and Gracie bolted out of the gate ahead of the pack, with Scamp taking a commanding lead. But in the final 20 yards, Gracie accelerated, rapidly closing the gap. "Photo finish!" called the announcer.
Alas, Gracie lost by inches to Scamp, who went on to get bested by Buddy from Long Beach in the finals.
At least she tried her best and made it exciting.
That's how it is in this dog-chase-dog world. It's not whether you win or lose. It's whether you really try for the cheese.