They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And so it was on Friday night that 29 dogs, some missing eyes, fur and others limping on limbs of different sizes or with tongues sticking out because they had no teeth, strutted their stuff during the annual World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.
While many of the pooches were from Northern California, some came from as far as North Carolina, bringing with them an army of supporters who had followed them on Facebook and finally met face to face at the Sonoma-Marin Fair.
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The winner Friday night was a Chinese Crested named Yoda weighing less than two pounds who stole the hearts of the judges and the audience alike. Yoda is owned by Terry Devine Schumacher, a Hanford, Calif. resident, whose daughter found the dog in a field 14 years ago.
“When she brought her home, I thought she had a rat,” Schumacher recalled. Today, Yoda, who has irregular features and scruffy fur, especially between her toes, is part of the family, who eats the same food as the Schumachers and often accompanies Terry to her job as a dog groomer.
The contest is in its 23rd year and is held to raise awareness about rescue dogs and the dangers of inbreeding. Numerous dogs at this year’s contest were bred unsuccessfully and then left at shelters when their owners were dismayed to find that they had uneven legs, crooked spines and other deformities.
That’s what happened to a Chinese Crested dog named Rue, who was born blind and with no hole in one ear, making her deaf. She would have likely been put down, if not for Annie Ragsdale of Lodi, who rescued her and brought her into her home.
“We’re here because we wanted to show people that it’s important to adopt these kinds of dogs,” Ragsdale said. “Most people want a cute dog when they go to the shelter, so dogs like her are usually put to sleep.”
Another participant at Friday’s contest was an adorable pit bull named Cuda, who lives in Durham, North Carolina and has acquired more than 4,000 fans on Facebook.
Cuda was born with a fused neck and legs that are different lengths, the result of inbreeding. Her owners, Scott and Julie LeRoy, adopted her from a couple who had lost their home last year. They decided to participate in the contest after seeing last year’s winner Princess Abby, a Chihuahua mix who had also been inbred.
“We came out to show people that backyard breeding and inbreeding needs to stop,” said Scott LeRoy. “Breeders don’t need any license to operate and it becomes all about the money for them.”
The LeRoys launched a massive marketing effort using the crowd funding site IndieGoGo.com and raised $2,700, which they will donate to no-kill shelters.
Surrounding them on Friday were new friends who learned of the campaign on Facebook and decided to come out to support Cuda. Others expressed their support via messages on her Facebook wall.
“Cuda has brought joy to many over the past few months as we all here (near and far) became Facebook friends,” wrote Kelly VanEngen Sand, one of Cuda’s fans. “Cuda brightens my days! She is destined for greatness regardless of the "ugly dog" title! WORK IT, CUDA!”
The winner of the contest received $1,000 and a trophy. But beyond the money and the spotlight, participants said they were there to bring attention to animal rescue causes and encourage others to adopt pets instead of buying them from breeders.
“He really seems to enjoy being here and it helps give back to the animal community,” said Dane Andrew, whose dog Rascal was a contestant. Rascal won the 2002 World’s Ugliest Dog Contest and many other similar contests since.
The pair have gone on to become celebrities on sorts, appearing on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show and The View, among others.