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PHOENIX-The Miller Lite commercial that featured wiener dog racing has bred an actual spectator sport.

And it's got animal rights activists howling.

Wiener dog races have been staged as special events at greyhound tracks in several states, much to the ire of the activists, who oppose greyhound racing anyway.

A dachshund race at a track here last last month, co-sponsored by a beer distributor, helped boost attendance but also brought out picketers.

Attendance tripled Feb. 25 at the Phoenix Greyhound Park thanks to the "1995 Wiener Dog Nationals," said track Public Relations Manager Joe Dunnigan.

Miller Brewing Co. is no longer running the wiener dog commercial, which broke in 1993. The spot, created by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, showed beer drinkers watching dragster dachshunds racing in the "Wiener Dog Winternationals."

Though wiener dog racing may have been spawned by Miller's TV spot, a spokesman for the No. 2 brewer said the races have never been part of Miller's promotional scheme. In fact, that commercial hasn't aired in at least six months.

"Whatever sponsorships are being done are at the distributor level," the spokesman said.

In Phoenix, that happened to be Shamrock Distributing in Glendale. Company owner Cindy Dunham said she got involved with the race to raise money for the local chapter of United Cerebral Palsy. The event garnered the charity $35,000, she said. (None came from betting.)

"I don't understand the concerns of the protesters," Ms. Dunham said. "This was a fun event for a good cause. The UCP people wanted to race poodles because they thought that because there are more poodle owners than dachshunds, we'd raise more money. We had to tell them the concept of dachshund racing was funnier and would draw more people."

The dachshund owners and general public did respond. Event organizers received more than 900 entries from people wanting to race their dogs in Phoenix. Of that, 32 were randomly drawn.

Some dogs never left the starting gate. It was as much of a spectacle to watch the owners coax their animals the 50 feet from start to finish, or even carry their pets, as it was to see the dogs run.

Dachshunds, with their short legs and long bodies, would hardly be a breeder's ideal of a racing dog. But what really has protesters angry is that the events are boosting attendance for the $3 billion greyhound racing industry.

"When we first saw the commercials we thought they were cute, but we never dreamed they would turn into this .*.*. which is worrisome for the breed," said Trudy Kawami, a Dachshund Club of America member from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Joan Eidinger, editor of the Greyhound Network News and a protest organizer, said the seemingly harmless dachshund contests help disguise the fact that greyhound racing "is a deadly serious business" causing the destruction of 50,000 dogs annually.

Dachshund lovers, however, may not be eligible to cast the first stone. Walter Jones, Dachshund Club of America secretary, admitted the dogs have been raced on occasion at club events. Also, the club's president raced his dog on "The Late Show With David Letterman"; that episode got many club members hot under the collar.

In January, the dachshund club's board issued a notice that disciplinary action would be taken if members are found allowing their dogs to participate in races at greyhound tracks.

"True dog fanciers won't go near greyhound tracks," Ms. Kawami said. "To have a national breed club associated with greyhound racing would send us into shock.'

Kate Fitzgerald coordinates Promotion Marketing News. Reach us by fax at (312) 649-5331 or e-mail address [email protected]

Next Promotion Marketing News appears March 20.

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