The Badgering Hound

WEARE HOLBROOK has written many light articles for news syndicates and magazines. A former Iowan, he now lives in Hartsdale, New York.


MY IDEA in getting a dachshund rather than, say, a wire-haired terrier — which happened to be the most popular breed at the time — was that it would require less exercise on my part. Its legs were so short that a walk around the block ought to be equal to a two-mile jaunt for a borzoi. The brief outing over, I would then park the exhausted creature in the apartment and go downtown to meet the boys.

That’s what I thought.

But I reckoned without the peculiar character of the dachshund. It is not like other dogs. To begin with, even though equipped with a pedigree as long us its spine, it looks like something made up of odds and ends from Buffon’s Natural History. It has elephant ears, an ant eater snoot, a chicken breast, duck feet, a ratty tail — and El Greco eyes. You can’t help feeling sorry for it. And this compassion is returned in the form of gratitude, unmitigated and 100 proof.

Most dogs have outside interests and act preoccupied even when patted: fox terriers and poodles practice vaudeville turns, collies herd sheep, bloodhounds track criminals, greyhounds pose with Conover models, Dalmatians chase fires, whippets race, huskies mush, retrievers retrieve, and spitzes spit. The dachshund was originally bred for hunting badgers and its broad forefeet are designed for digging. But because of its inability to distinguish between badgers and tulip bulbs this atavistic instinct has been discouraged. Consequently the poor thing has nothing to do except adore its master — which quickly becomes a full-time occupation for both parties concerned.

This sentimental tyranny extends beyond the home. At theaters, concerts, and dinner parties, dog owners in general are indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd. Their pets are simply details of their respective backgrounds, like automobiles, sailboats, gardens, and deep-freeze lockers; they can take a dog or leave it alone — even in a kennel. But those who own dachshunds may be recognized immediately by their haunted look. No cultural display or sparkling repartee can hold their undivided attention. Their gaze is remote, their conversation abstracted, and they leave early to hurry back to their heartbroken howlers whose open diapason of woe can be silenced only by the rattle of a latchkey.

Judging by bench-show statistics, boxers have succeeded cocker spaniels as the most popular breed at the moment. Yet in the newspaper photographs of visiting celebrities and vacationing socialites, dachshunds figure more prominently than all other breeds combined. It’s not that they are especially photogenic; it’s just that their owners can’t bear to leave the little darlings at home.

The most devout dachshund-fancier I ever knew was Aunt Millie. She dedicated the best years of her life to a long black hound named Eric. It was said that she used to sing the dachsology every morning, and she had no patience with those sticky sentimentalists who consider human beings more important than dogs.

When Eric died recently at the age of sixteen, we were worried about Aunt Millie. She had a nervous breakdown, took no interest in anything around her, and refused even to look at a dog. “There will never be another Eric!” she insisted with tragic finality.

But eventually Aunt Millie snapped out of it, and now she is her old self again— with a new hobby. She has become a people-fancier. “People are really fascinating,” she confided to me the other day. “I never tire of watching them. It’s wonderful how they respond to a little kind treatment. And when they look at you with those big bifocals, you can’t help loving them. They’re intelligent, too; I believe with ihe proper training they could be taught to do almost anything.”