Kennywood doggie race has disabled competitor

A disabled dachshund gets to display its determination in Kennywood's doggie derby

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By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Marathon races have their wheelchair competitors as well as their disputes. Now the Wiener 100 has them, too.

That would be the dachshund race at Kennywood Park. Its third annual installment is today at 3 p.m. And among its entries is Asher, a disabled 2 1/2-year-old who scoots around in a specially fitted wheelchair cart supplied by his best friend and owner, Laura Schumm.

"It's our first time for a handicapped dog in the race," said Kennywood spokeswoman Mary Lou Rosemeyer.

"Everyone thinks it's great," said Judi Erno of Sewickley, organizer of Pittsburgh Dachshund Lovers, an online Yahoo group whose members enter their dogs in the competition.

The event is less a race than a fun run -- the "100" means feet, not yards, and the "race track" is the patch of ground between the Parkside Cafe and the Carousel horse.

Not that the distance matters; the dogs might or might not bother crossing the finish line.

"It's hilarious," said Ms. Rosemeyer. "Some of the dogs go totally haywire while their owners are trying to coax them over."

"They might run around in circles, sit down or play together," said Ms. Erno.

It's all meant to be lighthearted, but that hasn't shielded the Wiener 100 from controversy.

Last year, a man whose dog lost lodged a complaint against the winner, saying it was mixed breed with longer legs than the purebreds and, therefore, had an unfair advantage.

And the Western Pennsylvania Dachshund Club does not approve.

"We don't like dachshund racing," said Emma Jean Stephenson of Beaver Falls, president of the club, which is licensed by the American Kennel Club.

"We're afraid it will get like greyhound racing, where dogs are bred to have longer legs."

But if it's just for fun?

"The dogs love to run after things so they have a good time. As long as it's under control and the dogs don't get hurt, I guess that's up to whoever wants to do it."

This year's race will feature two heats with seven dogs each, divided by weight -- under or over 11 pounds. At 15 pounds, Asher will be in the second group.

Asher was born with a disability, said Ms. Schumm of North Versailles. His back right leg is shorter than the left and doesn't bend; the two rear legs slide under him when he pulls himself forward on this front paws. Ms. Schumm adopted him at 8 weeks.

"I took him to my vet," she said. "The X-rays showed he had a broken back that healed incorrectly and may have caused other problems."

She named him Asher, after one of the 12 sons of Jacob in the Bible, because the name means "happy."

Ms. Schumm teaches fifth- and sixth-graders at a Lutheran church school. She brought Asher to class with her when he was too little to stay home by himself.

"I wanted to teach the kids it doesn't matter if you're not perfect; everyone can love and be loved. They just adored him. I finally had to stop bringing him because we weren't getting a lot of school work done."

In the beginning, she carried him everywhere in a blanket. Then he was able to hop around on the grass or carpet but not on concrete or gravel, which hurt his legs.

When he grew too big to carry, Ms. Schumm got a pet stroller with a flat bed. Asher loves that, too -- he can sit up and look around as she wheels him through flea markets and other public places.

"I walk him everywhere in that," she said. "It's a big conversation starter."

Eventually, Ms. Schumm began investigating pet wheelchairs online and came across a simple, ingenious cart design at dogstogo.net. It's made of PVC piping with stroller wheels on the end, foam rubber and some elastic bands. The dog's body rests in it like a sling.

"When I first put him in it he just stood there and looked very scared," she said. "He had always pulled himself with both front legs at the same time. I took out some cheese and stood a few feet away, and he took his first steps. Eventually he found he could move on his own."

Asher has had the wheelchair for just over a year now.

"He gets very excited when he sees it," said Ms. Schumm. "He knows it's his and we're going out."

She found out about the dachshund race last summer, but it was too late for Asher to register. This year, however, he's ready to roll.

"His front half is all built up from pulling himself around," she said. "He's like a little Schwarzenegger."

Today's temperature, however, will determine a lot.

"His favorite time to walk is in the evening when it's cool. If it's hot during the race, he probably won't move.

"My sister will start him, and I'll be at the finish line calling him with a squeak toy and some cheese."


Sally Kalson can be reached at skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.


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