The scene in Washington Square Park at noon on Sunday, May 1st, is one of extraordinary, outrageous chaos. To the right of the arch, polka music is blaring from an organ-like instrument. To the left, a local television crew is setting up cameras, unfurling cable cords, and testing microphones. Everywhere, there are dachshunds. Countless numbers of them yapping, sniffing, and wagging their tails, their little feet rat-a-tatting against the pavement. The 14th-Annual Dachshund Spring Fiesta looks like Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash live and in the flesh, to the thousandth degree.
Adrian Milton takes a break from handing out Dachshund Friendship Club (DFC) newsletters and looks out over the park from where he stands on a wooden bench. He is somewhat disappointed with the Fiesta’s turnout this year. It has been a rainy weekend, and the number of dachshunds scurrying underfoot is decidedly fewer than it has been in the past. Wieners, it turns out, hate to get wet. Still, he brightens, “I met a woman who has wanted to come for the past three years,” he says. “She brought her dachshund all the way from California.”
Milton founded the DFC in 1991, after adopting an abused dachshund named Damon. In an effort to find playmates for his new pet, Milton posted flyers advertising an informal meeting of dachshunds in Washington Square Park. A handful of dogs and their owners showed up at what became the first Dachshund Oktoberfest (the Spring Fiesta’s autumnal counterpart). Today, the DFC newsletter has over 1,000 subscribers, and the Washington Square Park gatherings draw crowds of up to 700.
Kevin Klepper puts the number of spectators ever higher, at 2,000 (man and beast combined). He and Annie Roderick have brought their dachshunds, Princess Apollonia and Princess Yasmina, to every Oktoberfest and Spring Fiesta for the past five years. Sadly, Princess Yasmina passed away last month. In tribute, Roderick is carrying a framed portrait of the late dachshund. Klepper is cradling a tutu and tiara-clad Princess Apollonia in his lap. He is careful to blow the smoke from his cigarette away from her face. “You miss your sister, don’t you?” he coos.
Princess Apollonia is not the only dachshund dressed to impress. The DFC strongly encourages costumes. There are dachshunds in leather jackets, dachshunds in sunglasses, dachshunds in Yankee jerseys, and dachshunds in poodle skirts. A number of dachshunds have been outfitted with buns and squiggly lines of foam ketchup. A woman struggles unsuccessfully to stuff her miniature dachshund into a pair of boxer briefs. “He’s not normally like this” she says, “usually he’s very well behaved.” While the DFC is strictly non-competitive, if a best-dressed award was given it would surely go to Risa Castagno’s dachshund, Bosco, who has come dressed as a police officer complete with handcuffs. Castagno says Bosco is representing all the officers who lost their lives in 9/11. At the Oktoberfest, he came in fatigues.
Along with the chance to revel with fellow dachshund fanatics, the Spring Fiesta presents a wealth of entrepreneurial opportunities. Murray Weinstock is selling copies of his CD Tails from the City, which features 12 canine-inspired tunes including ‘Big Dogs Need More Food’, ‘Chase That Ball’, and ‘Gimme That Bone’. Over by the fountain, a man has set up shop selling NYC Dachshund Day shirts. The shirts, which come in both regular T-shirt ($15) and baby tee ($20) styles, are emblazoned with a giant dachshund coming through the Washington Square Park arch. It doesn’t get much more phallic than this. Even Husein Taiflin, who operates a snack cart on the fringes of Washington Square Park does good business. “I sell a lotta hot dogs on these days” he says.
For seven-year old Isabel Devereaux, the best part of the day is “meeting a lot of dachshunds.” She is here with her dachshund Doc, who at 16 (that’s like 100 in dog years) is one of the oldest dogs at the Fiesta. Doc won’t stand for costumes, but if he would, Isabel would dress him up “like a waiter, carrying a hot dog on a plate.”
For others, the best part of the Fiesta is the chance for their small dogs to run free without the threat imposed by larger breeds. One woman is pushing a dachshund in a baby carriage. The dog’s back is partially shaved, and there is a line of stitches across his spine. She is talking animatedly to another woman who has four dachshunds tangled around her legs.
“He was bitten by an Irish terrier,” the first woman says.
The second woman clucks her tongue. “When I walk them,” she says, gesturing towards her flock, “I carry citronella spray to spray at the big dogs if they get too close.”
The first woman nods in understanding. “Ever since he was attacked, he won’t go near other kinds of dogs.”
“A dachshund never forgets,” the second woman says.
Both of them suspiciously eye a German Shepherd who is out for an afternoon walk.
Shortly after one o’clock Milton clears his throat into an electronic megaphone and announces that it is time for the Fiesta’s culminating event: the singing of the “Dach Song.” The crowd rushes over, tugging at leashes and jostling for copies of the lyrics. When the masses have quieted Weinstock steps forward with his accordion and begins to play. At first, people are timid and their voices are barely audible. But by the second go-round they are singing loudly, their shoulders swaying in tune with the music and in time with the wagging tails.
There’s no other dog like a dachshund,
Walking so close to the ground,
They’re stubborn and sly as a fox and
The happiest pet to be found.
Most kinds of dogs seem to either
Have shapes or proportions all wrong;
They’re only one way or the other,
But dachshunds are both short and long.
Dachsie, meine dachsie,
The best canine under the sun,
Call you “wiener” or “sausage” or “hotdog”,
We know that you’re number one.