On the spectrum of the world’s coolest canines, dachshunds can come up a little short. But in a new performance piece at the World Stage festival, the lowly pups are moving out of the doghouse and into the United Nations. For Dachshund UN—basically, your high school model UN, but with dogs—three dozen doxies will be individually assigned to bark on behalf of 36 different countries. The team behind the show explains why there’s no better breed for the job (with some help from participating pooch Euie).
1. Dachshund UN’s creator, artist Bennett Miller, says he chose the breed because like the UN, an organization with a complex and often conflicting array of duties, the dachshund’s body is one where the form doesn’t quite suit its function.
2. “When you make up the UN assembly of [dachshunds], there’s racial diversity similar to what we have within humanity. They’re the only dog that’s like that,” Miller says. Within the breed, there are three types (long-haired, short-haired, and wire-haired), three sizes (standard, miniature, and the very petite kaninchen, which is German for “rabbit”), and a variety of different colourings and markings.
3. Though its elongated body is what makes the dachshund unique, it’s also the root of many severe health problems. Spinal injuries are among the most common issues that affect the breed.
4. Harbourfront Centre artistic associate in performing arts Sky Fairchild-Waller helped adapt Miller’s scaled-down model UN structure to the Enwave Theatre, which meant he had to become intimately familiar with how dachshunds move. “When we have dogs the size of The Rock’s forearm on a giant structure, we want to make sure they’re contained, in case they feel like doing a little skydiving,” he says. “I’m thinking: How long are their legs? How high does the wood need to be? How comfortable are they sitting? Do they like to lie down? Can they jump, and if so, how high?”
5. Toronto’s Dachshund UN is open to dogs of all abilities. Arthur, who was born without eyes, is travelling with his owner, Margaret Blackman. He’ll use a textured mat to stay in his proper place.
6. “You think of dogs, you think of Lassie running through the forest,” says Fairchild-Waller. “Yeah, that’s not the dachshund’s reality. It’s basically a cylinder with legs.” For him, the dogs’ limited mobility serves as a comment on human rights and accessibility, adding another layer to Dachshund UN.
7. Participating pups don’t need to be specially trained, just sociable—a standout quality in a breed notorious for having a loud bark and a territorial attitude.
8. “They have this sort of perfect diplomatic expression, which is quite funny and appropriate,” Miller says.
9. “When you see the U.K. have fleas, or China peeing on Uruguay, you can’t help but construct a narrative that has serious weight to it,” says Fairchild-Waller.
■ Dachshund UN has been performed eight times in total across Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, and the U.K., involving somewhere between 700 and 800 dachshunds.
■ Dachshund UN doesn’t come equipped with a cast—you have to build it from the ground up. The Toronto team began recruiting dogs around the GTA in August, spreading the word through dog walkers, rescue organizations, canine festivals, and social media. They booked 117 dogs from 24 different cities in Ontario, Quebec, and New York.
■ Miller got his pet dachshund, Ruth, after Dachshund UN performed in Perth, Australia. Fairchild-Waller jokingly predicts he’ll be “a father of nine” by the time the show wraps in Toronto. In case audiences feel similarly inspired, dachshund adoption services are available in the theatre lobby during the performances.
■ Political leaders like Napoleon, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, and U.S. Presidents Grover Cleveland, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy, have all owned dachshunds.
Dachshund UN runs from Feb. 28 to March 3 at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W., 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com/worldstage.
CORRECTIONS, Feb. 28: A previous version of this story contained several errors. Sky Fairchild-Waller is an artistic associate in performing arts at Harbourfront Centre. The Dachshund UN set was designed by creator Bennett Miller. And participant Margaret Blackman and her dog are not from Montreal.