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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.

(Photo: From Holly Chandler’s Gofundme page)


Comment from SoulDog
Time June 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

I completely agree. Perhaps it’s anthropomorphizing a bit, because Peanut doesn’t really know that people are lauging at his ugliness. But it just doesn’t feel right, as you said, to be laughing at the scars of a dog who was so horribly abused. It’s not funny. Abuse is not funny. And I don’t think this venue was really the proper one to spread the word about how bad animal abuse is. Good intentions, wrong avenue.

Comment from Kelly Davis Beckley
Time June 23, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Copy of my email to WUD contest officials.

Thank you for your mistreatment of me and my dog Faith at your “fair” contest.

First of all, your contest rules specifically state: “Prior to arriving for the contest, all the dogs must provide a veterinarian’s paperwork asserting that they are healthy and are “naturally ugly”. The supposed “winner” Peanut was abused and burnt; he is not naturally ugly. He is most definitely not qualified. Your coordinator told me as much in a phone conversation we had two days before the contest when she explained, “We made an exception for Peanut this year.”

However, my dog, Faith, who was born with a genetic predisposition to a natural autoimmune disease that made her “ugly” was almost not allowed into the contest due to unfounded allegations by your contest veterinarian that she was being abused by me, her owner. She literally raised her voice at me after I defended myself. Then after begrudgingly allowing Faith into the contest, had actually said to her colleague, “I’m still not sure about this one.” This, after Faith’s veterinarian called and spoke with the contest veterinarian a day before the contest to explain that Faith has been extremely well taken care of since I rescued her. In addition, I provided the contest officials with Faith’s “Health Certificate” provided by her veterinarian stating that she is a healthy dog.

We watched other dog owners having their dogs inspected by the veterinarians at the vet check area and each of them was greeted with a smile and treated kindly. When we approached, it was as if they were ready for a fight. Neither of them smiled or spoke kindly. They first asked me if Faith was sick, which angered me since they were already aware from the required paperwork that I submitted previously, as well as after having a personal phone conversation with Faith’s veterinarian, that Faith was not sick. I also offered to show them Faith’s Health Certificate and other paperwork that I had with me to show them the amount of care that Faith has received since I adopted her. They didn’t want to see it. Then the female veterinarian had the audacity to suggest that Faith was being abused—by me. The conversation was heated and we we felt humiliated and attacked. I am still angry that we had to be subjected to terrible allegations of abuse and mistreatment of the sweet, little dog that I rescued and treat with nothing but love and kindness.

Not only were we treated unfairly by your veterinarian(s), but for the remainder of the contest, we honestly felt as if there was some sort of conspiracy behind making sure that Faith did not receive as much attention as the other contestants. There is no way to prove this is true, of course, but it was pretty obvious that we were treated differently.

The contest was a horrible experience for me. I certainly don’t want to appear like a “sore loser”, although every dog owner at the contest, along with myself of course, wanted their dog to win. But, I can’t stay silent about how rudely I was treated and how my integrity was challenged. I learned a few lessons: the contest is a sham, the rules don’t matter, contest officials aren’t to be trusted and the “winner” isn’t even qualified.

I used to believe that this contest was a positive one for bringing attention to the ugly dogs that are often passed by in shelters and for allowing rescue dog owners a platform to share their stories of these sweet, beautiful dogs. Now I don’t. Shame on the people behind your contest for their treatment of me and my sweet Faith. Never again will I subject her, or myself, to such prejudice.

Although I would like to officially lodge a complaint and perhaps have the “winner” disqualified, I doubt that would ever be allowed by your officials. However, please know that I will share my story with as many people as possible so that they are aware of the truth behind your contest.

There are others on social media who are concerned about the fact that you allowed an abused, burnt dog into the contest. Although the likelihood that someone would abuse a dog to disfigure it to enter it into your contest is remote, you have set a bad precedent by disregarding your own rules.

Kelly Davis Beckley

Comment from reddawg
Time June 23, 2014 at 6:06 pm

I do not find them ‘ugly,’ unusual yes, and not at all amusing. While I agree with the need to increase public awareness of and sensitivity to, all animal abuse, the idea of an ‘ugly’ dog contest is repellant.

Comment from Carrie Moyers
Time June 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I completely disagree. Writing a book may or may not get NATIONAL attention. Peanuts story is getting national attention. In my eyes drastic changes in this world need a national spotlight. Anything positive that would help abused animals, I say go for it. People take this contest too seriously. It’s all in good fun. The owner now has the worlds attention and can get her message out there.

Comment from Cheryl Pattison
Time June 24, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I have attended the WUD contest for the past three years to cheer on for my favorites. My friend, Linda Elmquist, brings her dog Josie to show. She is getting the word out about SAFE and adoption. I believe WUD brings an awaremess of the need to adopt dogs for their personality not just looks. Many of these animals, beautiful inside a less than attractive shell, continue to be euthanized. People need to hear the truth and this contest allows us to share such knowledge with the public. Nobody mentions that this contest draws children who sit in the grass with arms outstretched to pet/hold these dogs and share the love. What a moral to encourage in our youth and future.
The contest often raises eyebrows at the appropriateness of such a contest even when the animals are “naturally ugly”. I feel that any dog considered ugly due to abuse or disease (disease even autoimmune is not a natural process) should not qualify as a contestant. We need to hold the contest officals accountable for the obvious lack of judgement in allowing not only Peanut but Faith also to enter. Holly entered this contest with good intentions and her desire to stop animal abuse…to show these animals can make great pets with love and care.
As for people who laugh about the ugliness…what does that say about them. People often laugh inapproriately when confronted with something uncomfortable…then again perhaps some are just as superficial as beauty often appears to be.

Comment from Icky Theuglydog
Time June 24, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Having been part of this contest for several years I have to say that like kelly Berkley I too was a bit put off. Not so much with peanut but with Kelly entering Faith. Faiths on line Bio

Faith is a seven year old Jack Russell Terrier with the canine autoimmune disease, pemphigus. She has no hair on her head, ankles or tail (except for a few wispy, white ones on the bottom), her ears are scarred, she is missing 11 teeth, her toenails are brittle and broken, she has scabs on her head and her breath is rancid. There is no cure for Faith’s disease but she is being treated by her veterinarian for her symptoms. I met Faith at an adoption event at PetSmart when I was working part-time as a doggy daycare specialist. I asked the volunteer why she was so ugly and he said because she has a skin disease, no one wants her and she will be euthanized next week if she is not adopted soon. I asked him her name and he told me it was Faith. Well, the rest is history. She’s been my dog now for nearly four years. Her ugly appearance and kind heart inspired me to write a children’s book, “Faith, the Ugly Dog” (The Adventures of Buzzardillopossum) in hopes that we might share the message that it doesn’t matter if you are ugly on the outside as long as you are pretty on the inside. Faith is excited to be a contestant in the World’s Ugliest Dog contest and promises that if she wins, she will be a great role model for ugly dogs everywhere!

So Kelly you are going to take a beloved member of your family which in your own words HAS A DISEASE Whick Unless your dog has NO NERVES is painful scabs come from broken skin and subject it to travel (stress) Media (Stress) thousands of screaming people (stress) So you choose to put your dog through MORE stress which we KNOW only weakens their immune system Plus the condition worsens in the sunlight I find that rather disturbing. So Kelly watch the stone throwing in which you have started about judging others actions. I belive Faith SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO COMPETE. As far as “ABUSE” I too had a problem with that UNTILL like a big boy I contacted Peanuts mother and we talked several times regarding my concerns and in this instance although I am just a nomal guy I was impressed by her motivation for bringing awareness and stiffening the legal penalties for animal abuse and or neglect. 90% of the dogs in the contest are rescued from an abusive situation Be it neglect, Puppy mills, over breeding, or simply being dumped IT IS ALL ABUSE Holly and her vet Believe Peanut was burned due to his scarring it is not clear for sure