Basset hounds taste olympic glory

“I want everyone quiet please, so the dogs can focus.”

There were no fancy bells or pistols as about half a dozen excited and drooling basset hounds lined up between black cardboard cutouts shaped like their silhouettes awaiting the call to race. The entire track, roughly 12 feet across, was all that stood between them and a gold medal.

Last Saturday, over 100 basset hounds and their respective owners met in a northwest Calgary backyard to compete for glory and drool badges. The Basset Hounds Olympics, previously known as the Basset Waddle, has been organized by Calgary Basset Hound Rescue for the past five years.

Basset hounds have an excellent sense of smell and four very stubby legs– they are not known for their athleticism. During the races, which divided the dogs according to age, the call of their hopeful owner and the promise of a meaty treat was not always enough to urge the dogs to the end of the track. Many rolled over when released, hoping for a belly rub, or got distracted by the other frolicking pooches and decided to stop and sniff.

“It’s hard to train a basset,” said Janet Naclia, a basset rescue volunteer.

“Part of it is that bassets are independent thinkers. They’re very smart dogs but depending on how they feel they might do a trick, they might not do a trick. You know, they’re easily distracted.”

After a tense display of physique during the low-jump and race events, the athletes moved onto a competition of intellectual prowess to see who would win Best Trick. Hoover, alongside his proud human Val, tied for first place with Phoebe. Both dogs successfully danced about, sat, stood and shook a paw for the amusement of onlookers.

“We just started when he was a puppy,” said Val of their extensive training regime. “We started with shake a paw and he’s just such a natural that we keep teaching him stuff. It takes him two days to learn a new trick.”

Hoover also possessed the seemingly rare ability to focus on his cucumber treats. Many of the other competitors experienced a stage fright that resulted in even more excessive drooling. 

Basset gatherings are held every year to raise funds and awareness for the Calgary Basset Hound Rescue, a volunteer-run non-profit organization.

“This year we figure that we have probably touched the lives of 100 dogs,” said Naclia. “We actually work a lot with other rescues, we work with rescues in the States because they have a lot of high-kill shelters.”

She added that because of the small number of rescue groups in western Canada, she often sees dogs coming from British Columbia and as far away as Winnipeg.

“They are really funny dogs. They’re characters and they really, really love their people but they’re very good.”

Rescuers are always looking for more volunteers and permanent or temporary homes for the hounds.

Last but not least came the Loudest Basset Competition. Unfortunately, many of the most vocal competitors had exhausted their voice boxes by this point. Others simply did not understand the concept of howling on command.

This year, Naclia said the group raised $4,500 to help cover food, veterinary and other costs.

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