Posted: 11/20/2011


Worst in Show

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Worst in Show is a documentary about a long-standing dog show that highlights the ugliest dogs that the area has to offer. Every summer, proud dog owners bring their canine companions to Petaluma, CA, to compete for a highly coveted title. No, this isn’t your standard “Best in Show” championship. This is the contest for the “World’s Ugliest Dog.” For more than 20 years, the grassroots contest has gained worldwide media attention and has given rise to a new class of competitors. 2008 was a particularly competitive year; vying for the top spot was Rascal (the veteran), Icky (the Rookie) and Pabst (the underdog).

Worst in Show
is a fascinating documentary that examines the many ways our society defines beauty and takes viewers behind the scenes at an event where the competitors never fail to impress. Equally impressive, however, is the care and devotion of their human counterparts, all of whom prove that love goes beyond skin deep.

The dogs in the documentary are amazingly ugly, but that’s the ticket with the Worst in Show. The competition pits ugly mutt against ugly mutt, and it’s a marvel to behold. Along with the dogs mentioned above, there was Abbey, who won the hearts of the judges and competition attendees, alike. She is an inbred dog, with legs like a kangaroo, ears like a bat, a humped back like a camel, and a tail like a bunny—and I almost forgot, she was blind in one eye. Her female owner found her shortly after the owner’s boyfriend had committed suicide. This dog sort of pulled her owner out of a dark funk.

Throughout the documentary, there are rivalries among dog owners whose dogs had been favorites to win, and a psychologist even weighs in on the fact that maybe the dogs know that they are of the underclass and are ugly. How bad this is, the psychologist suggests, comparing it to when humans are ridiculed because they aren’t as attractive as the next person.

There is even discussion among dog owners that one particular dog shouldn’t be allowed to continue in the competition, because the dog had cancer. The question is posed whether or not the dog would win if it didn’t have cancer. Shouldn’t the owner be more concerned with taking care of the dog than trying to make money off of its illness and grave condition?
Worst in Show is a great documentary in which to see a dog competition that, although it’s had some longevity and the winning dog and their owners have been regularly featured on talk shows, I don’t think has been well publicized.

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Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago, who also serves as a news editor for

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