Clearly beauty and ugliness is in the eyes of the beholder! The World’s Ugliest Dog Contest at the Marin-Petaluma Fair is proof of that. The winner this year was Martha, a Neapolitan Mastiff entered by a local rescue. She got her 15 minutes of fame and then some, with an article (or two) on the front page of the Press Democrat, a trip to New York to appear on the Today Show and international media attending the competition.
Martha was described as 300 lbs. of skin on a 100-lb. dog and that is probably accurate. She was definitely goofy looking; perhaps a bit pathetic with the sad droopy eyes and jowls of her breed – but ugly? Not at all – in my opinion! Past winners have typically been deformed and freaky looking with major under bites, missing teeth (and tongue hanging out), bulgy eyes, hairless patches or other skin issues – you get the picture, really unattractive.
It’s nice to know they have a rule that not only must the dog be healthy (at least non-contagious) but that they not have been altered in any way to enhance (can you call it that?) their ugliness! In the past it felt more like the old freak shows that traveling circuses had where you gawked at people with rare deformities. It was a bit uncomfortable to watch the dogs hobble and wobble as they went down the runway. Not that I’m thinking they were necessarily modified for the benefit of winning. It shows how ungracefully some dogs’ age – the oldest contestant this year was sixteen, and definitely showed the ravages of time.
It’s amazing how many Chinese hairless dogs have been entered. They are a little weird looking at their best, with their furless bodies and crown of tuft. Throw in an abnormality or two and you have a pretty ugly creature. Sometimes it’s a face only a mother (or devoted pet parent) can love. This contest has become so famous though, even drawing contestants from abroad, that I think people are now looking for an ugly dog to adopt so they can enter!
The point of the contest, as they promote it, is to show that all dogs are loveable and to urge adoption and rescue. That may be what gave Martha the paw up this year. Her story was a heart-tugging one. She was rescued by Dogwood, a local rescue and was going blind due to entropion, a congenital condition where the eyelids turn in and painfully scrape the cornea. After being rescued Martha had a couple surgeries to repair the eyelids and correct the problem. Several other of the contestants were rescues and their stories, along with their personalities were part of the criteria the judges used when deciding on the winner.
A Penngrove couple adopted Martha so she will remain a local celebrity and will have a whole year to enjoy her status as the “World’s Ugliest Dog” until she has to turn her crown over to a new winner. Know a dog that might be a good contestant?
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.