My editor, Luke Phillips, assigned me a breaking news story to cover this past week: The Atascadero Colony Days Wiener Dog races. Well, okay, maybe, (possibly) I might have volunteered for that one. Wiener dogs are born looking like comedians – I swear I met one who looked exactly like Bob Newhart – and they are named after a sausage, and people who race dogs and participate in dog shows are like sausage comedians. The idea to enter my dog in the Atascadero races transpired when Luke showed me an impressive photo of his Chihuahua, ‘Cinnamon,’ with a glimmering royal blue participation ribbon from last year’s races. We could, at least win one of those, I thought, and tack it above the mantle with the T-Ball trophies.
We entered our totally undisciplined, overbearing but painfully lovable rat terrier, Milly, in the race – not with hopes her cheetah-like speed would win us one of those decked-out doggie baskets from Lemos Feed & Pet Supply – on the contrary. The bar was much lower. We hoped Milly would not hurdle the lane and decapitate and eat the eyeballs out of some poor child’s stuffed animal, as she is known to do… but mostly, we wanted to see fellow community members get all goo-goo about their dogs.
We were not disappointed.
My sons and I needed a good laugh and the competition included small dogs, not just the elite Wiener dog class, so I thought maybe our adopted shelter dog from Bakersfield, whom we took into our family as a seizure dog for my youngest son, could have her moment of fame. She has been invaluable to our family. She can track the energy change a seizure brings naturally (as dogs can), and warns us ahead of time when my 10-year-old son is about to have one by following him around like a presidential bodyguard. Did we spend $2,500 to have her professionally trained by Dog Whisperers? Nope. Does she wear a read cloak that officially designates her as a ‘Service Dog.’ Um, no. I spent all our extra money on food. Instead, we taught Milly not to lick my son like a meat popsicle during the seizure, and her main job is providing 100 percent complete loyalty and companionship for my 11 and 13-year-old sons, who are the ones who get ignored during the days of unrelenting seizures.
Dog love is like nothing else. Our Production Manager, Jim Prostovich, will tell you cats are the cuddlers, and he has a real cat calendar over his desk to prove his preference, but I’m convinced otherwise. My dog Milly knows when I’m stressed out and rests her little brown and white head on my shoulders. She waits for me at the window when I come home from work. And when we go for jogs, she leads my way like a lighthouse beacon.
In the early hours after the parade, just before the races, we witnessed grown humans practicing their tiny, costumed muts on the race course over and over, drilling them like Russian Olympic gymnastic coaches. Oh goodie, we thought, Milly is going to lose big, and it’s going to make us laugh.
I have taken myself way too seriously over the years, and, to be honest and painfully raw, I am in the midlife stage of rediscovering fun, of doing things that make no sense, that serve no purpose other than to entertain and delight my senses. Pure, and utter nonsense. Thank goodness our north county towns honor such ridiculously therapeutic pastimes. There must have been hundreds of us watching the dog races.
Pointless activities make my heart soar. We have the parade, where we set up chairs to witness people walking in costumes and making music and loud noises in unison. The Colony days Pie Eating Contest to compete for Supreme Glutton. We have haunted houses in Templeton and Atascadero where we pay real money to be grossed out and freaked out. We have Cruise Night in Paso and Atascadero, when we gather around to drive around and look at cool cars. And we all know about Templeton’s dog swim ‘play date’ at the Templeton pool. (Absolutely a legitimate event on Planet Earth).
Milly made it to the quarterfinals, but she threw the race to chase after someone’s baby bag. My sons and I were just grateful Milly (a.k.a. “The Assassin”) wasn’t after someone’s baby’s favorite teddy bear’s eyeballs.
My dog’s failure to win the doggie swag aside, (I think Boo Baby and Pretzel won the titles) the race had more than enough wackiness to fill our sappy laughy cups. My teenage son literally thanked me for bringing him and said, “Mom, this is unreal.” I caught my middle son giving Milly a pep-talk. “No jumping the lanes,” he was saying. “You’re gonna be our Speedracer!”
An announcement was made, “This heat is just for the Wieners.” Need I say more?
Like a “Sharknado” movie, the wiener dog race had action. It had drama: for instance when every dog in all six lanes went anything but straight to the finish (despite the dog owner’s fanatical squeaking of doggie toys and Tarzan calls). Four dogs were automatically disqualified for jumping the lanes. One just sat there like he had been freeze-sprayed. Another hightailed the opposite direction. And suspense: Lemos judges Amy, Joe, and Ben, and Kathy had to watch an instant replay video to determine which pooch: Trixie or Chiquita Banana, made it to the semi-finals. Trixie’s owner must have felt miffed. Trixie was clearly the winner of the heat. But most of all the races promised star power. The Wiener dog race announcer announced the dog’s talents and interests over the loudspeaker. One amazing dog, she said, “speaks eight languages” and a dog named Harley was, apparently, the “Leader of the Flea World.”
Pretzel did end up winning one of the final small dog races, and talk amongst us spectators on the grass was that Pretzel wins every year. We were all personally invested in the many four-legged personalities. I, for one, was impressed with Boo Baby’s drive and focus, and sheer size for a Wiener dog (what does she eat? Other small dogs?) I didn’t stay for the results, but I’m pretty sure the Wiener dog who dressed as an actual king, with an Imperial State-style gold and purple crown and velvet cloak won the dog costume contest. Regardless, the Colony Days Wiener dog races are just one of the millions of reasons I love this silly town, and I hope Milly can be our ticket to some weird fun next year, because, let’s face it, life is heavy, so bring on the fluff and nonsense!