Animal

Worst in show: how the world’s ugliest dogs get competition ready

The annual Worlds Ugliest Dog competition takes place this weekend in Petaluma, California. So how do owners get the entrants looking their, er, best?

Beauty takes work. Ugly, for the most part, just happens.

Which is why Annie Ragsdale and her animal companion Rue were relaxing in their front yard two days before the Worlds Ugliest Dog competition. The six-year-old Chinese crested would get her nails clipped soon enough. Her hairless torso, pocked with blackheads, would be bathed. But there was no reason to hurry.

Some people ask, Why do you bother to bathe and lotion her? You want her to look ugly, Ragsdale said, as Rue quietly growled nearby. But I dont want to makeher look ugly. She does it all on her own.

Rue is not as prehistoric-looking in person as she is in her photograph on the doggie pageants website. Her eyes bug out. The right one is coated with a strange blue film. She has glaucoma. She is blind. Instead of the flowing mane the breed is named for, Rue has a scraggly black mullet. Her head is two sizes too small for her body. She has five or six teeth and only one ear canal. She is anti-social.

And beloved. Like many of the men and women who enter their dogs in the ugly pageant, Ragsdale is involved in rescue and shelter efforts. To them, the Worlds Ugliest Dog competition is a way to celebrate the unusual and encourage animal adoption.

Ragsdale also has a pig with neurological problems that was deprived of oxygen at birth and staggers around the familys two acres like a drunk, a pony that was no longer needed at the pony rides and a donkey thats allergic to fly bites and whose legs must be medicated and wrapped daily.

She also owns a second Chinese crested, whose two front legs were broken and then fixed badly. Its name is Tim Tim. (After Tiny Tim, the Dickens character.)

Rue
Rue is blind in one eye and can only hear out of one ear. Photograph: Andrew Burton for the Guardian

The annual contest, which is part of the Sonoma-Marin Fair and happens on Friday, draws news outlets from around the world to the northern California town of Petaluma. Photos of the winner each year often go viral across the world. Fair spokeswoman Karen Spencer said three German television stations have called this year, along with journalists from Australia and France.

The British love the ugly dogs, she said. In fact, Mugly, the 2012 winner, hailed from Peterborough, England. Sometimes theres more media than dogs.

That could be the case on Friday, when a dachshund-Chinese crested mix named Himisaboo (Isaboo for short) returns to ugly dog stage for the fourth time.

Owner Heather Wilson is far more careful with competition prep for her beloved dog than she was with his conception nine years ago. When Wilson got married, she had a dachshund named Oskar, and her husband, Kelly, owned Boolah, a female who was probably part Chinese crested.

Himisaboo
Himisaboo: when done just right, his coiffure bears an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump. Photograph: Courtesy of Heather Wilson

I didnt even think about getting Oskar fixed, she recounted, rueful for about a moment. Boom, we got some babies. Thats how Isaboo came to be.

Wilson designs and sells vinyl fingernail wraps. As the ugly dog contest nears, she applies the nail wraps to Himisaboos claws. She carefully picks the brambles out of the dogs ears. His favorite activity is squirrel hunting; vegetation is an occupational hazard.

Combing and spraying Himisaboos hair into place is a key part of getting ready for the competition. When done just right, his coiffure bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous fur of real estate mogul Donald Trump, who hopes to take his comb-over to the White House.

But there is one step thats even more important to Himisaboo who is largely hairless and prone to acne than presidential pelt preparation.

We pop his zits, said Wilson, who travels to the competition from Payette, Idaho. Im not kidding. You dont want pus oozing out.

Playing by the rules

Like most competitions where money or prestige is involved, the Worlds Ugliest Dog derby is threaded through with politics.

The rules are clear: dogs cannot be surgically altered in any way for the purposes of the contest. And they are all checked by a veterinarian before hitting the stage.

SweetPee
SweetPee Rambo, a contestant in the Worlds Ugliest Dog competition this year. Photograph: Courtesy of Jason Wurtz

But what if the dog was physically changed by abuse before its current owner rescued it? And what about the all-too-natural ravages of age? Should compromised creatures be allowed to post up against run-of-the-mill ugly?

In 2014, Peanut did, and scampered away with the $1,500 prize.

Peanut, an abused mutt, had been badly injured in a fire, which left him with patchy bald spots and much, much more.

He doesnt have lips anymore, Holly Chandler, Peanuts human companion and rescuer, from North Carolina, told Time magazine. His eyelids are also gone, so he cant close his eyes, so therefore his eyes water. The tears drain into his nose and so he has nice little snot bubbles because of it. So its great, and that adds to his character.

This year, it is SweePee Rambo who raises questions about a level playing field. As a mostly hairless Chinese crested, with many of that breeds peculiarities, SweePee already has a scrawny little leg up on her challengers . And she is 17; her advanced age exacerbates anomalies to her benefit.

She is completely blind, says owner Jason Wurtz of Encino, California, who has her name tattooed on his right calf in Gothic letters. Her spine is bent at a 90-degree-or-so angle, although Wurtz insists he doesnt notice. She has arthritis in her back legs. Most of her teeth are gone.

SweePee also is often incontinent. Wurtz buys diapers sized for newborn humans and pokes a hole in the center to accommodate her tail. But unlike her fellow cresteds, that elderly appendage lacks a graceful plume. The result? From the midsection down SweePee resembles a rat in babys clothing.

Rudolph,
Rudolph, a neurologically handicapped boar, with Annie Ragsdales daughter. Photograph: Andrew Burton for the Guardian

Four days before the competition, Wurtz took her to the groomer. Her smooth little body was washed. Her very sparse hair was shampooed and trimmed. On contest day, he will make sure of one more thing so his two-time, second-place winner has a shot at the big prize.

I probably wont have her in a diaper, he said. I dont want to embarrass her. But Ill have one, just in case.

Ragsdale thinks SweePee has a good shot at winning this year, and old age only boosts her chances. As the day warmed up in her small town in Californias Central Valley, she cradled Rue in her arms and looked at the online gallery of ugly dog competitors.

Her eyes stopped at scrawny little SweePee. That, Ragsdale said, is one ugly dog.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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