There's something to be learned from that special breed of people known as "dog owners." At least that's what I hoped as I was on my way last Sunday to Downey Park — one of Orange County's handful of parks that welcomes dogs — for a special event: the Orlando Dachshund Races, organized by Gary Ponta of the Orlando Dachshund Meetup Group.
Never having contemplated how many people owned dachshunds — much less ones with a penchant for racing — I was surprised to see the frenzied crowd when I pulled into the parking lot.
Ponta himself was shocked at the turnout. "I couldn't see from one side of the park to the other," he says. Approximately 75 people signed their dachshunds up for the competition, but Ponta says many other people just showed up and let their dogs run. The race was open to any interested dachshund owners, and "It was kind of crazy," he says, adding that it was just for fun — no prizes, no money were involved. Typically, his dachshund group meets up every other week, and the "race" theme was just another way of generating more interest in the organization that started in 2003 and has grown to 287 members. (The Halloween contest is the real event of the year, he says.)
From where I stood, I felt like I was seeing hundreds of people, each of them seemingly with at least two dachshunds. (Ponta reports that he has two-and-a-half doxies: Nikki, Kaily and Teddy, a half breed.) No matter how you add it up, a staggering number of wiener dogs were on the loose — full-size and miniatures — running, humping, pooping and peeing all in the same 900 square feet. Not being much of a dog person — and especially not little sausage types — I sucked it up and tiptoed about, avoiding landmines, as I made my way to the center of the action.
Once there, I couldn't help but observe that almost every person out there was talking to a dog — praising, scolding, directing, chatting. It was the same tone, the same conversation that I heard from parents addressing their children.
I watched a normal-looking couple in their early 30s whose dog started to misbehave. This is when the scolding of Cupid began. They tried everything from the obvious command, "No!" to the pleading question, "Why are you being so retarded?" Ouch! Good thing the dog doesn't understand. Or at least I think they don't understand. The owners say otherwise. I mention to the couple that I can't help but wonder if dogs talk back. I giggle. I'm just kidding, right?
It seems that I'm not kidding and that, yes, indeed, dogs do talk back. At least that was the overwhelming response to this question that I asked to owners throughout the afternoon. One woman told me that she has three dogs, and they all have a different voice and very different attitudes. When I answered my cell phone, I couldn't help but want to ask her, "Can you talk to your dog on the phone, too?"
"Well," says Porta, "I know I talk to mine and she looks at me and shakes her head at me, and I think she knows what I'm saying." But he thinks it's just the sound of the voice that they respond to, not always the words themselves, though he allows that many dogs have a primitive vocabulary and can understand simple words, like "walk" and "treat."
As the day went on, the races took place and the dogs ran wild. Throughout, there was an overriding buzz of conversation; everyone was happy and laughing. I guess having someone there that you can always talk to makes you that way. Maybe I have changed my feelings about dogs, at least wiener dogs. Then again, do all breeds talk or is it a doxie thing? I guess I'll have to continue visiting dog parks to find firstname.lastname@example.org