The costume contest is one of the more strenuous of the day's competitions.Coming from a guy who grew up with Husky and Shepherd mixes — or what I would have referred to as real dogs — it surprises me that I have become fond of the lowly Basset Hound. When I was a kid my neighbors had a Basset and I observed that while my dogs chased sticks and accompanied me in various forms of play and adventure, their dog was either sleeping or mindlessly barking at things real or imagined.
These memories came back recently while surrounded by 200 of what is arguably the funniest looking of all dogs — a breed whose origins seem more likely linked to a cartoon studio than actual lineage.
Attending the annual Oregon Basset Hound Games last year, I lounged on a 101 Dalmatians print blanket with my housemates, Sara and Aaron. We watched over our two household Bassets, Winston and Burton, as they languished in the midday summer heat.
Prompted by a distant loudspeaker, we shook Burton awake, eager to begin prepping him for the next competition — in which he took 1st place two years before. We’d missed the ‘08 games due to scheduling conflicts; this year we were ready. We had trained all year long and awoke eager to get to Woodburn on game day. We were confident that his special talent would garner another big win in the annual Howling competition. That said, talent alone does not guarantee a medal. It also takes dedication, training, and passion — all competitive components that would give Burton an edge on the field that day.
Aaron had worked all year as Burton’s main trainer. He would begin practice sessions by making a series of soft “Rao-rao” sounds until Burton cocked his head, indicating he was ready to focus. As Aaron increased his volume, Burton eventually responded with a soulful yelp, and then closed his eyes, arched his head back, and began howling in a position best suited for maximum sound projection.
Unfortunately, right before the competition, Aaron was called away on business, so I had to accompany Burton into the howlers’ ring. Sara sat next to us tending to Winston — a howler in his own right, but not as focused or consistent as Burton.
After securing our places on the events field, surrounded by 15 other hopeful howlers, one of three judges started the clock and the games began. My prompting seemed to go unnoticed for the first few minutes as Burton was distracted by the surrounding activity. As I focused my “Rao-raos” and moved closer to his ear, I noticed the telltale cocking of his head and a sudden earnest look on his face. Soon he was in full howl, while many of the other Bassets were barking, disinterested, or confused.
The first judge’s gaze locked on Burton, whose head was now arched in classic form. The other two judges were alerted and also began watching. Their collective attention suggested we would likely enter the winners’ circle again, and we did! Burton had earned another 1st-place medal. When the fanfare died down and he resumed his usual business of searching for forbidden things to eat or smell, I was a bit embarrassed at how proud I felt each time I looked at him. Especially considering how blissfully unaware he was of his champion status.
By now the games were well underway, as evidenced by many of the Bassets who had clearly worn themselves out and were strewn about the park in various states of tranquil slumber. Some of the events yet to come included Sitting, Sleeping, Modeling Costumes, going through an obstacle course, and Slalom Swimming.
The swimming event required dogs to wade through a shallow kiddie pool — a simple task you might think, but in actuality one that proved impossible for all but a few intrepid competitors. Due to the fact that Bassets are stubborn, have attention-deficit issues, and are generally difficult to train, most events were hilarious. Some dogs became winners by default when all their competitors had either wandered off the field or decided a nap was more rewarding than a victory medal.
Bassets are unique, idiosyncratic creatures with consistently good-natured personalities. Whether you own a Basset, like Bassets, or just want to spend an afternoon surrounded by a pack of very entertaining canines, the annual Basset Hound Games is an event worth attending. Burton is currently back in training, so if you go, look for him in the howlers’ ring.
The 2010 Basset Hound Games will be held July 17 at 5pm and July 18 10:30-2:30 at Legion Park in Woodburn.
Karl Abramovic is an artist-art educator whose murals, paintings, and illustrations have been viewed in New York, London and up and down the West Coast. He also creates thematic pet portraits and works as an art workshop facilitator for Lifeworks in Beaverton, OR. For more information visit, www.americansurreal.com.