By Neil Lurssen

If there is one thing you can say about the good people of Germany, it’s this: “Don’t mess with their dogs!”  The fine folks of the Fatherland are known to dote on their canine pets and, in particular, the breeds that carry national pride – like the Dachshund and the German Shepherd who are right up there at the top of the list of favorites.

Take for instance the dog we in America affectionately call the Doxie – the little fellow with the long body, the ridiculously stubby legs, the amazing flapping ears, the swaying backside and the outsized personality.  The Dachshund is the proud symbol of the state of Bavaria. The Dackelmuseum in the Bavarian city of Passau is devoted entirely to dachshunds.  Its shop sells everything Doxie to devotees.  And you may remember that the mascot at the 1972 Munich Olympics was a Dachshund named Waldi who gave us a happier memory from that tragic terrorism-plagued event.  Waldi’s colorful image was everywhere at the games and the organizers even designed the course of the marathon race as near as they could to his sausage shape.

I mention these things about our favorite stretched pooch because German dog lovers were somewhat surprised recently – and perplexed – to read in the British Press: “Sausage Dogs to be Banned in Germany.”   They were horrified.  Turns out the British tabloids got a dog story wrong again – and it was not for the first time.  (I have read articles in British newspapers that have denounced all Pit Bulls sensationally as “Devil Dogs”) and the Germans were anxious to put things right about their beloved Dachshund.  Bild, the biggest-circulation newspaper in the country, came out with a firm denial.  On the other side of the North Sea, the mighty BBC got involved also to put an end to the anguish with a light-hearted report it headlined: Stay!  Even the German government issued a no-way statement.

While the misunderstanding in the UK did result in some chuckles in addition to the mutters, the actual cause of the brouhaha was serious – and many might argue the matter was long overdue for action. The reports stemmed from draft legislation to go before the German Bundestag (Parliament) that aims to stop breeding of animals which can lead to suffering. Called the Animal Protection Act and drawn up by the environmentally-active Green Party, the proposal will go to the German Cabinet later this year for scrutiny and then to Bundestag members for a vote. With the backing of scientific data, the draft version will specify traits and selective breeding activities that can cause dogs pain, suffering or physical damage – so-called “torture breeding.”

Among the issues the law-writers had in mind were excessively elongated spines, very short legs, over-flattened noses and faces – features that may be aesthetically pleasing to some dog owners but can cause excruciating back, knee and hip pain, breathing difficulties and short life expectancy for the dogs. For example, a simple leap to the floor from a sofa or a bed can cripple a long-spined dog.  A petition calling for a ban on a number of breeds with those characteristics has already won tens of thousands of supporters and the German branch of the animal rights group PETA has declared support too.

But wait a minute, argues the influential German Kennel Club – generally known as the VDH because of its initials in the German language. The VDH feels the Animal Protection Act goes too far and it has launched its own petition against it which, they say, could indeed lead to a ban on Dachshunds because of their two-dogs-long-half-a-dog-high bodies.  Other dogs too could be targeted warns the VDH – like Pugs, Bulldogs and even the enormously popular French Bulldog.   

The VDH is a body to be reckoned with.  It brings together 167 member organizations with more than 650,000 members and represents Germany in the International Canine Federation (FCI) which is the world’s largest and most important association of national kennel clubs and purebred registries. That kind of political clout warranted a Government response and a spokesman made it clear: “No dog breeds will be banned. We want to prevent breeders from deforming dogs so much that they suffer.” Noting that everyone wanted animals to live normal healthy lives, a Green Party spokesman told the BBC that with the new legislation … “there will always be sausage dogs. We will just never see any with legs one centimeter long.”

So German citizens can look forward to a lively political battle over the future of their beloved Dachsies later this year and they can also take comfort from the likelihood that the breed – whose many fans have included Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the “Desert Fox” General Rommel, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard – will always be around to delight us with their playful ways and stubborn refusal to be bossed about.

John F. Kennedy bought a Dachshund puppy when he toured Europe in 1937 but unfortunately had to leave it behind when he developed allergies but most people are definitely not allergic to the playful and affectionate little wrigglers. And we did have one in the White House – the pet of President Grover Cleveland. The breed turns up regularly in the lists of most popular dogs in America (except during World War I when moronic propaganda about their German origins led to a fall off.  After the war, the dogs were forgiven). This year they are ninth in the Top 10.

While Germany claims that Dachshunds originated there as long ago as the 15th Century as badger-hunting dogs with the body shape and short legs to get into badger burrows, there is some weak(ish) evidence to suggest the breed may be much older – by thousands of years!  In their excellent book on the mythology of dogs, authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman write that images on the wall of an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb show a figure with Dachshund characteristics. My own guess is that an ancient Egyptian artist, maybe not too familiar with dogs, had a bit of fun when depicting Anubis, the dog man with supposedly Dachsie features. Since there were no real dog men available to pose for him, he made up features just for the heck of it.

Those 15th Century Dachshunds were a bit heftier and fiercer than our pets today because their badger prey were no pushovers and usually weighed 25 to 40 lb. Those long flappy ears were bred in deliberately to keep sand, weeds, foxtails and other small items from getting into the ear canal. Miniature Dachsies were bred, it is said, to hunt rabbits, gophers and other small prey. It seems unforgivable that such adorable little creatures would be raised as predators. But then consider the Yorkshire Terrier, also high up on the Cutie Pie standings. Yorkies were bred to kill rodents in grubby 19th Century British factories and coal mines.

Today’s Dachshunds are favorites for fun times and take part in happier activities like family romps and games like scenting. Some people enter their dogs in competitive racing like the so-called Wiener Nationals – though the Dachshund Cub of America opposes racing because of potential injuries due to their vulnerable spines.