From Peanut to Cyndy Loo Whoo to one-eyed Willie Bean Walker, here are the entry photos submitted for the 20 dogs competing in this year's "World's Ugliest Dog" contest at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in California. (Jonathan Elker/The Washington Post)

A face only a mother could love? Thankfully, not quite.

As the yearly Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, Calif., preps for its Friday, June 20, opening, organizers have set up online fan voting for the 26th annual World’s Ugliest Dog contest.

“Rascal,” a tiny, hairless Chinese Crested, looks like he spent the day licking an electrical outlet. “Yoda” is a Chihuahua arriving at Petaluma via San Antonio and, I’m guessing, Wes Craven-like nightmares. Jack Russell Terrier “Faith” is missing 11 teeth. “Quasi Modo” was once mistaken for a hyena. This sordid lot is good for a chuckle (and the video above certainly delivers).

Having said that, “The annual World’s Ugliest Dog Contest is not about making fun of ugly dogs,” the organizers wrote in a press release, “but having fun with some wonderful characters and showing the world that these dogs are really beautiful.”

Maybe or maybe not, at least in the traditional sense. But for many of these dogs, Friday will be a celebration of something far more important — because the sheer ugliness they’ve seen in their lifetimes has nothing to do with their reflection.

When the Sonoma County animal shelter found contestant “Shaq” last year, the scruffy mutt had been half-shaved and left for dead in the street. “Macie,” a hound mix also competing this year, spent her former life living outdoors on a Virginia farm — where current owners say her severe allergies drove her to chew her skin raw. When 14-year-old competitor “Willie Bean Walker” was adopted from a rescue in Los Angeles, he was missing his right eye. And “Peanut,” a whippy little Gremlin lookalike who bolted out to a Secretariat-type lead in online voting? Owner Holly Chandler told WCTI he’s missing his lips and eyelids because a prior owner set him on fire. “I want people to see his story and to raise awareness for animal abuse,” Chandler said. “This is what happens every day, and we really need to come together to stop it.”

Awareness is on the rise: In 1985, just four states had felony animal cruelty laws on the books. In March, South Dakota became the 50th state to enact one of its own. Still, there’s no reliable national tracking system in place to monitor animal abuse, according to the Humane Society, which estimated nearly 1,900 cruelty cases in 2007 by counting media reports. Of those, nearly 65 percent involved dogs. Some of this year’s fair competitors probably should have pushed that number higher.

“A good many of the contestant dogs have been rescued from shelters and puppy mills, and the Contest has done much to raise awareness for adoption of dogs,” Ugliest Dog organizers said. “No matter their physical detractions, these animals are loving companions.” And many are serious survivors, too.

So on Friday, here’s to choosing the ugliest dog around — and for many, cheering their beautiful new lives.


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