One of the proudest moments of my life was the day I helped lift the starting gate at a dachshund race at Old World Village.
If you've been to one, you know how they work: Two or more wiener dogs at a time fidget behind a small gate, which one person holds on each side of the track. Then the gate goes up and the dogs race toward their owners, who wait at the other end with toys, food or other treats.
The time I volunteered to be gate lifter, I wondered how much the owners and their dogs prepared for the race. Some of the contestants sprinted eagerly across the track, while others froze at the starting line or turned midway through and doubled back. I somehow doubted that dachshunds go through as much training before the big day as, say, thoroughbreds.
Evidently, some of them do undergo a little conditioning. Take Penny Lane, for example, who will be among the challengers at Old World Village's Father's Day dachshund race Sunday.
Those who follow dachshund races may remember Penny Lane as the champion of last year's Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals at the Los Alamitos Race Course. According to the course's website, Penny, who was named after the Beatles song, narrowly beat a dachshund named Presley for second place. There must have been a rock 'n' roll theme that day.
Regardless, I was curious to know how a dog becomes a Wiener Nationals champion. Is it just natural exuberance, or is there a regimen involved? So Tuesday morning, I met with Penny and her owner, Trish Ausilio, at Huntington Dog Beach to watch them prepare for Sunday's contest.
The pair, along with Ausilio's sister-in-law Connie, visit the beach twice a week to play fetch and give Penny's legs a workout. Recently, Ausilio said, she brought the dachshund to a hilly park to give her practice running up a slope.
Ausilio, of Buena Park, adopted Penny as a puppy and intended to give him to her father for Christmas. After a few months, though, she found herself so attached that she kept Penny for herself and adopted another dog for her dad.
When Penny was 8 months old, Ausilio heard about the races at Old World Village and brought Penny to compete. The little wiener promptly took second place, and she's been racing — and often winning — ever since.
"I'm a total stage mom," Ausilio said. "I have a big scrapbook for her."
Back at Old World Village, Ausilio stands at the end of the track while Connie lets go of Penny on the other end. Although Ausilio keeps a snack in her pocket to reward Penny at the finish line, she doesn't feel the need to dangle it over the track — the dog runs to her anyway.
And if Penny doesn't triumph at Old World Village this weekend, she has a bigger event coming up: The next Wiener Nationals take place July 9. If I keep honing my skills as a dachshund race gate operator, maybe I can help see her to victory.
City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.