And now for something soft, warm and hideous! Worst in show (2011) is a documentary by John T. Beck and Don R. Lewis that takes a close look at the bizarre world of ugly dog shows, focusing specifically on the quest for the title of Worlds Ugliest Dog, held in Petaluma, California, each year. It offers an interesting blend of humour, ego, competitiveness and other typical owner attributes for dog showing (or any kind of competitive pageant in my opinion), and combines it with a strange cocktail of sympathy, love and disgust. Let me explain.
You see, it’s easy to look at some of these dogs and shrink back in horror, but it’s not necessarily due to the fact that the dog is ugly (and although there are some doozy’s, like Sam, the 2003-2005 winner below, I find most of them just oddly cute) it’s more about the obvious disfigurement of the pooch in question due to weird types of defects that make your stomach kind of quiver. As with any kind of freak show, there is a fine line that is being walked. Although at times I was a bit horrified at some of the deformities, which is kind of hard for any animal lover to see, the show does take precautions, such as mandatory vet checkups pre show, to screen out those that are in need of care or are victims of neglect. And although some of these guys look a little….hit by a truck, they are fighters that will take (and give) a lickin’ and keep on keeping on, just happy that someone loves them. If a vet is happy with their health, then I see nothing wrong with it, but I still reserve the right to be a bit squeamish.
Now, I’ve always held dear the strange and freaky, and although unconventional, all deserve to find a forever home (read Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, Or, How I Learned about Love and Life with A Blind Wonder Cat for a great read on why they should). I think it’s great that there is a platform that exists that people can be proud of a pup with a hint of the strange, and to come together as a community to show off their differences. However, it’s not just the dogs that make me squeamish, sometimes it’s the other part of that community, the owners.
Not all of the owners of course, but there are a fanatical few who seem to have a bit of the wild eye behind their pasted on smiles, or somehow seem to not really get what the pageant is about. There’s something kid of creepy there. Honestly, it’s not all that different from any regular beauty pageant, which I find equally creepy, (but honestly have no experience with – although I did watch Little Miss Sunshine, if that counts for anything) and although it might seem that this might be somehow making fun of or exploiting the beauty challenged pooch, regardless of the owners quests for glory, the dogs themselves sometimes just seem to be happy to be there. Or look a little dazed and confused. Or cold, and scared – but maybe that’s just what excitement looks like on the intense little face of a Chinese crested, the breed that typically wins this thing. For the stoic and the socialized, I think this is a great opportunity to be out and about with adoring fans, but for the shy or timid dog, it doesn’t look as fun.
There is something lovely about people being able to see past the societal ugly (and sometimes you have to look hard) to the beauty and spirit of the dogs inside. All dogs deserve to be loved, and if you love them, it comes naturally that you want to be able to be proud and show them off, and in Worst In Show, show them off they did. It’s hard to not want to root for them, and since many are rescues, it also is a testament to the people who saw them as they were, and gave them a chance, willing to love them anyway, squinting, tongue hanging and awkward gaits aside. The other interesting thing to watch is how these dogs shape the lives of the owners, which ranges from making this a career and meeting celebrities, to finding love, finding community and personal support, all from the bonds of their dogs, sometimes leaving it up to the viewer to describe who rescued who. It goes to show, no matter what Quasimodoish thing is on the outside, it’s always what’s inside that counts. And every dog, no matter how ugly, should always get its day.
Here’s a clip: