It was last year I decided that I’d had enough of the “Worlds Ugliest Dog Contest” — a cute little idea that has become too big, too cutthroat and, by putting so much emphasis on appearance, too much like all those beauty contests whose superficiality it was created to counter.
What finally sent me past the tipping point was that last year’s winner, Peanut, was said to look the way he looked at least in part because he had been abused — back before he was rescued by a loving family.
Giving prizes to dogs whose appearances have been mangled by humans — though that’s kind of what happens every year at Westminster — is a bad idea.
Giving prizes to dogs who are deformed, or just plain ugly, was a sweet concept at first. Then, despite its good intentions, it grew into a beast.
So with a nod to this year’s winner, Quasimodo — that’s him above in an Associated Press photo by Noah Berger — we reprint last year’s ohmidog! post on the topic, which asked the question, “Has the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest run its course?”
It seems like every year I’ve teetered a little closer to disliking the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.
A cute concept at first — and one that helped remind us what a superficial thing beauty can be — it seems to have grown into a pageant that, despite its focus on “ugliness,” inches ever closer to reflecting many of the same negative traits of purebred dog shows and beauty contests.
As the quirky little contest at the Sonoma County Fair in Petaluma has grown huge, and the title more sought after, there has been a concurrent increase in cut-throat competition, campaigning and hype.
But it’s the choice of this year’s winner that may have finally pushed me into being a fan no more. The title of World’s Ugliest Dog was won by a dog whose unusual appearance is the result of being abused.
And that troubles me.
This year’s winning dog, Peanut, a two-year-old mixed breed, is from Greenville, N.C. He was adopted from a shelter after being found abandoned and severely abused. It is suspected he was set on fire. While he’s healthy now, his eyelids, lips and patches of hair on his body were burned off, which accounts for much of his unusual appearance.
His owner, Holly Chandler, held fundraising campaigns to travel to California and enter Peanut in the contest — all, she said, to help raise awareness about animal abuse.
Given that’s a large part of this website’s mission, too, I have no problem with that cause.
I’m all for celebrating dogs who look different. I’m all for celebrating dogs who have overcome harsh odds. I’m all for abused dogs recovering and becoming rich and famous while their abusers rot in prison.
Where my discomfort comes in, I think, is placing abused animals in a “contest” context and, within that party atmosphere, picking a winner whose looks are the result of being horribly mistreated at the hands of man.
Abuse, it seems to me, should not be connected to pageantry and cash prizes, no matter how circuitous that link is.
Yesterday, I watched a local TV report about Peanut winning the contest. The anchor people, while noting Peanut had an inner beauty, laughed and joked about his appearance, as I’m sure the crowd did at the contest.
Peanut beat 24 other dogs to win the contest Friday, receiving more than double the votes the second-place dog received.
While his owner seemed sincere in her purpose, and probably did raise awareness about animal abuse, I can’t help but wonder whether we should all be chuckling — even while feeling sympathy and love for Peanut — at his appearance, at his prominent teeth, or his eyes that never close, given it was all the result of a cruel criminal act.
On the other hand, the world should know Peanut’s story — and the contest was a way to make that happen.
Maybe, though, there are better, more dignified ways, such as writing a book, or taking him to schools, or sharing his story with the news media — ways that might avoid the appearance of exploitation and have a little less of the circus atmosphere that seems, in my mind at least, to clash with serious nature of animal abuse.
I doubt there is any danger of people disfiguring their dogs in hopes of winning the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, but — given the world can be pretty ugly — stranger things have happened.
I think it would be wise, and in good taste, for contest officials to impose and enforce a ban on dogs whose “ugliness” or unusual looks are a result of actions taken by humans — whether those actions are heinous criminal acts or cosmetic steps, like dyeing, taken for amusement purposes.
While the contest’s web page states that “all the dogs must provide a veterinarian’s paperwork asserting that they are healthy and are ‘naturally ugly,’ Peanut’s victory casts some doubt on how strongly that’s being enforced.
All that said, I don’t find any fault with Chandler entering Peanut in the contest. She was on a mission. She made her point.
Maybe the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, after 25 years, has made its point too. A cute and well-intentioned gimmick with a sweet message, it might be growing into a bit of a monster. Maybe it should fade way before it becomes too Westminstery.
I have problems with contests that award people, or dogs, for good looks and conformity. Maybe I have issues with awarding them for “bad” looks and non-conformity, too.
Definitely I don’t like the idea of people laughing and finding amusement in a dog’s misery, which, in a very distant, removed and indirect way, is what’s going on.
That’s the best I can do at explaining the ill-at-ease feeling Peanut’s victory gives me.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.