Wiener dogs dash at Pet Fest in Missoula’s Caras Park

August 21, 2010 9:45 pm • By BETSY COHEN of the Missoulian

When Linda Baumann decided to organize a community pet festival to promote responsible ownership, her goal was to educate through entertainment.

Never did she dream she’d hit the jackpot with “wiener dog races.”

At the fifth annual Pet Fest on Saturday, it was the dachshunds – nearly 80 of them – that stole the show and brought hundreds of people to Caras Park to show off their own animals, learn from vendors and experts how to better care for their pets, visit with shelter animals, and adopt a four-legged or feathered friend.

“The wiener dog races are just hilarious,” Baumann explained. “We had 62 entries last year, and we had to put a barricade up around the race course this year because last year it got so out of control.

“Who knew there are so many wiener dogs in Missoula? And you should see them when the crowd cheers, they just go all over the place and go every which way.”

Such was the case this year. Because of the giant field of entrants, the wiener dogs were separated into three categories: “Little Smokies” for dachshunds up to 3 years old, “Frankfurters” for dogs ages 3 to 6, and “Bratwursts” for dogs 6 years and older.

Kalie Bowar’s 1 1/2-year-old Oscar, a miniature red brindle dachshund, was a return contestant, hoping to medal again in this year’s Little Smokies competition.

“He works for food,” Bowar said, explaining that she brought his favorite string cheese treat this year to motivate a blazing 40-yard dash to the finish line.

Dan Cleveland was just hoping his Chloe, a 6-year-old black and tan wiener dog, wouldn’t burn up her superlative sprint as she did last year with a false start that induced bedlam among her canine competitors.

“She’s really our daughter’s dog,” Cleveland said with a mischievous smile. “We have her now because she’s (their daughter is) in the Peace Corps – but we won’t give Chloe back when she returns home.”

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With each successive year, Pet Fest grows and so does the crowd, Baumann said.

She was particularly thrilled to see people arriving empty handed and going home with one of the many shelter pets that had come from around western Montana to find a new home.

“The number of shelter dogs are up throughout the country because of the economy, and spaying and neutering is down because of the economy,” she said. “All of these things cost money and pets are often the first victims of a bad economy.”

Pet education was the event’s priority, but it also provides an opportunity for people to donate food to help support local shelters and to learn more about rescue operations.

Baumann was hopeful the event would at least meet last year’s generous donations, when more than 3,200 pounds of food was collected and later dispersed to local shelters. She also hoped the crowd would go home with a new appreciation for abandoned animals after talking with shelter representatives and meeting some of the animals available for adoption.

“There are wonderful animals in these facilities – and many of them are purebred,” she said. “Because of the economy, we need to get the word out that people can adopt great pets from shelters.”

As printed on her shirt, Vicki Scheidecker, a member of the Polson-based Lifesavers Animal Rescue, reiterated: “You don’t have to save them all, just one.”

As for Oscar, he came to the event with his A-game and came home with a second-place trophy.

Bowar was enormously pleased with his performance, and said she might sew him a cape – after she makes him his very own bed in the shape of a bun.

Proud of her canine’s skill, she now has to carefully manage his talent.

Laughing, she said: “I’m trying to keep his amateur status.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.