I was reminded recently of a show I caught years ago on Animal Planet about the Ugly Dog Contest. I was talking to someone about it the other day, and it really hit home what that show had taught me.

There is apparently an annual Ugly Dog Contest, held each year in California, to benefit animal welfare organizations, where owners bring their not-so-attractive pups to compete. Because I was reminded of the show and we have Google, I naturally looked it up. It is, indeed, still (or was prior to COVID) taking place in California. There are photos of these pups online and let me tell you, it’s quite a motley crew each year.

Most of the breeds are your standard, what non-dog-lovers would call “what-in-the-world-are-they?” bunch, like Chinese Crested – no hair, except for a couple of tufts on the head, tail and feet; Shar Pei, the wrinkled to all get-out dogs; and the smashed-faced fellows, like Bulldogs and Pugs and some Boston Terriers.

Some of these pups even had their tongues sticking out the sides of their mouths – that painted quite a picture, let me tell you. Did you know that the hairless breeds have the tendency to develop dental issues? I sure didn’t. Apparently the lack of fur can cause genetic problems, like fewer teeth, which sometimes will make their tongues stick out because there’s nothing to hold them in.

It’s amazing what you can learn from basic cable (at least if you’re on the right channel, anyway).

The thing about this contest, though, and it’s what I talked to my friend about, is I didn’t really think the contestants were all that “ugly.” I mean, what is ugly? Who determines it? What are the qualifications?

If you ask me, ugly is more of a term for behavior than looks, anyway. Some people and animals I know wouldn’t win any traditional beauty contests, but to me, they are and always will be absolutely stunning because of what’s on the inside. You know what I mean?

We had a Chihuahua come into the shelter – man, this was years ago, now – who looked like a train wreck. No hair at all from his front shoulders back and this rough, coarse hair from his front shoulders forward. Really, the poor guy resembled more of a rat than a dog, if I’m being frank.

Well, this little squirt stole all the hearts around here. He was the dearest soul. Cute, funny, great personality. Once people looked past the exterior, they saw it, too. Needless to say, he got adopted relatively quickly.

We’ve had terriers missing teeth with their tongues hanging out, but they give the same kisses as any other dog.

We’ve had dogs with a missing eye, but they still can look at you with a whole lot of love.

Ugliness, like beauty, really is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes, to find either, I think you have to go deeper than the surface.

If you want a real lesson on ugly, Google The Integrity of Ugly. It’s a story about a neighborhood tom cat. Be warned, though: you better have a box of tissues handy. That one is a real tear-jerker.


I remember on the Animal Planet show from years ago, one of the “ugly dogs” visited a school, where the children were able to interact with him, drawing pictures and generally having a great time.

One of the students was on camera saying, “I don’t think he’s ugly. I think he’s beautiful.” What a fantastic lesson to teach children – and maybe, that’s the whole point of the “Ugly Dog” contest.

Maybe, even though the title sounds offensive and you think, oh you shouldn’t say that about those dogs, maybe the whole point is to question the definition of ugly. Maybe it’s a way to get the world to look past the idea of what’s on the outside to see the heart and true attractiveness beneath.

Maybe beauty doesn’t mean straight teeth or shiny hair or perfect eyes or flawless skin. Maybe real beauty, true loveliness, can be found in having the right attitude, the capacity to love, the ability to take what may be seen as imperfections and embrace them, make them something to be proud of – to really be okay with yourself.

I said to my friend, is it ironic that the Ugly Dog Contest may actually lead to finding genuine beauty?

We both agreed that somehow, there’s a synchronicity there that seems just about right.



Jennifer Vanderau is the Publications and Promotions Consultant for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, and can be reached at: cvascomm@cvas-pets.org. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at: (717) 263-5791, or visit the website: www.cvas-pets.org. CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.


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