Small dogs and astroturf

A number of things come to mind. Foremost, of course, is a simple question: What the hell?

In the first place, it is not so much that I hate small dogs as I just, um … er … yeah. I’ll figure out how to finish that sentence in rewrite. Or maybe not. On the cosmic level, of course, I try not to hate anything. And, true enough, I doubt you will ever see me going out of my way to kick a small dog or anything, but the things could, in the end, be deal breakers. They’re among the things that make a potential lover unattractive. Small dog owners are one-nighters, not potential relationships. Maybe there’s some Darwinian aspect about it, a manifestation of natural selection at work: These two people should not mate.

Terrified Chihuahuas race for everyone's amusement.  (Alan Berner/Seattle Times)I won’t even start on the crazy woman at the Lynnwood Park & Ride who had a small dog in a sweater and a chihuahua in a … in a … well, it looked like a freakin’ purse for carrying a chihuahua. A dog-satchel. And, yes, she was crazy. But she actually had a boyfriend, although he seemed to like to hang at the edge of earshot, smoking cigarettes and staring sullenly in the other direction.

More substantially, though, I have this thing about animals and competition. The horses love to run, say the advocates. Do we still add weight to slow them down if they’re screwing up the odds? And what the hell is that event that always used to make ESPN, with a riot of horses falling down a riverbank? Oh, hell yeah. The horses really seemed to love that one.

An elephant painting? Sure. Great. Awesome. Rodeo? You better bet I’m cheering for the bull. Dog races? Did I mention Darwin? If you’re betting on the dogs, you’re probably not nearly as essential to the species as you would otherwise imagine. Dog races are especially despicable and ridiculous to me. The only upshot of dog racing I can think of is that I’m told that canines rescued from the circuit make excellent companions. But, to be honest, I never thought you needed a racing circuit to make dogs good companions. Their bond with humanity predates the race track and trifecta.

Of course, greyhounds aren’t small dogs.

Jack Russell terriers are, though. And I’ve seen those things race before. On David Letterman, I think, but I know I’ve seen it. Then again, I’ve also seen a Jack Russell eat its own dried feces like it was a Milk Bone. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Talk about a shit-eating grin.

But flip a coin on this one: Chihuahua races.

Really, I don’t know what to think. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I can’t figure which is the right thing to think. And, yes, sometimes it is important to think and feel and understand the right things. And, yes, there is such a thing as the right thing.

But when the whistle blew, Cricket panicked. She forgot to run. Instead, she wagged her tiny stub of a tail and smiled her toothy Chihuahua grin, while mass chaos ensued on the 35-foot track of artificial grass.

Some of the other dogs refused to leave the starting gate. One lay down in the middle of the course to scratch himself. Meanwhile, the nearly 750 humans who’d come to Petco’s fourth annual Seattle Chihuahua Races in Kirkland yesterday to “race” their shoe-box-size animals cheered feverishly.

“I was at the finish line, yelling for her, but I think she got kind of confused,” said Virago Lowe, laughing. She and her niece, Bella Stribling, 13, who both wore purple “Team Cricket!” T-shirts, said they weren’t too upset.

After all, you don’t go to the Seattle Chihuahua Races to win. You go for the spectacle. And spectacle there is.

The 188 dogs at the event were both excited and terrified. Many trembled beneath their BeDazzled collars, reluctantly responding to names such as Fizzy, Twinks, Ninja and — I couldn’t make this up — Violet Chalupa Chiweewee.

Haley Edwards’ report for the Seattle Times on the fourth annual Seattle Chihuahua Races—sponsored by Petco—is one of those paradoxically important stories. At first glance, one is given to wonder if Edwards sometimes regrets the career in journalism. There’s an old joke about herring sperm that makes the point, to be sure, but it is enough to recall that it was during the twenty-first century that I watched a CNN reporter do an in-studio piece on canine fashions as part of the Christmas hype, and you could see a certain anguish in the reporter’s eyes: Why am I here? The insanely trivial is often a generous springboard into the existential. Nothing brings Sisyphus into focus quite like imagining a lifetime of hearing about this one at the pub.

To the other, though, covering the Chihuahua Races is a vital service to the community. More than the dogs, we should be concerned about these dog owners. These are people who give their dogs pretentious names like Champion Hatteras Cape Jule-Rome, Tatertot Angel, or Hatty-Cakes Bakers Man (all the same dog), spend $165 on a sequined jumper with black lace, and not only put the dog in a pink wig, but then style their own hair to match, and spend thousands trucking a Chihuahua to dog races (still the same dog). We need to know there are people like this in the community. And we need to know how many of them there are.

Indeed, a Lopez Island couple whose dog, Pancho Villa, won the event, will be heading down to San Diego so that the toaster oven-sized yippie can take its shot at glory, when Petco holds the nationals in August.

Perhaps we need visas for interstate travel; they ought to be denied re-entry.

But I digress. I think. Er ….

Okay, so what to do about Chihuahua races? The dogs are nervous enough, with a triple-digit sitting pulse and this weird nervous shivering thing that many of them do. On the one hand, as Edwards reports, you go to the Chihuahua races “for the spectacle”; to the other, there seems something inherently cruel about finding entertainment in watching a small animal be terrified. To yet a third, though, isn’t it cruel to take an animal “whose entire body mass could have fit into a paper coffee cup” and dress it up in a “pink and purple sparkly party dress”? Hot pink toenails?

There isn’t a paragraph of Edwards’ article that isn’t fodder for easy jokes. But that’s not really her fault. After all, it’s Chihuahua races. What the hell is wrong with people?

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