Wiener Takes All
By June Naylor
After two decades of rolling out the barrel, it’s clear Southlake’s Oktoberfest has legs — some shorter than others
Veteran attendees of Southlake’s German-flavored fall celebration will tell you the best time of the whole weekend happens when the festival hot dogs hit the street.
“The wiener dog race is extremely popular,” says Bill Tait, who oversees nearly 600 Oktoberfest volunteers and serves on the city Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the festival. He emphasizes the word “extremely,” noting, “It’s all fun and games to look at, but the dog owners are very serious. Some are on a circuit of wiener dog races.”
The Saturday morning crowd — men in lederhosen, women in dirndls — knows a thing or two about how best to connect the polka dots at Southlake’s annual event, celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall. But so many festival veterans gather to watch dachshunds dash 35 feet that, for most, getting eyes on the short-legged athletes requires focusing on a jumbo screen where the race is broadcast.
Several heats are required as there are only four racing lanes and potentially 100 or more dogs registered to race. Rest assured some pups have been training at home to get a leg up for the big day.
As with any competition, fans get excited.
“We tried to get licensed for ticketed betting, complete with handicapping the odds,” says Joe Kahan, owner of EarthWise Pet in Southlake and chair of the wiener dog competitions, who offers a $500 gift basket for the winner. “But the license was too costly. You can still see betting going on in the crowd. Mostly you hear a lot of hooting and hollering, as well as the disappointment when a favorite loses.”
Dachshund revelry isn’t limited to the races: Perhaps the only thing more entertaining than watching vertically challenged dogs running fast is seeing them in costume. Prior to the races, a parade of wiener dogs donning clever outfits draws droves of spectators. Crowd-pleasers have included a sailor dog in his wagon-turned-boat and a dog dressed like Cinderella accompanied by her humans in Disney princess costumes.
“We usually have more entries in the costume contest than the race; some dogs aren’t built to run. We get a lot of older dachshunds almost as thick as they are long,” says Kahan. “The audience chooses the winner, as we use a sound meter on my phone to judge the applause. It’s only fair to let the crowd decide.”