Every summer in Petaluma, California, the Sonoma-Marin Fair hosts the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. To many animal lovers, the term world’s ugliest dog may seem counterintuitive. After all, can a dog really be considered ugly? That would be like saying a baby can have an ugly mug – it just shouldn’t be said!
Award-winning documentary filmmakers John Beck and Don R. Lewis are putting the finishing touches on the documentary – or DOGumentary, as they call it — called Worst in Show which will be released on DVD this year. It is currently being shown at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.
Having discovered the trailer for Worst in Show, I got to thinking about a little dog named Elwood. Elwood is the 2007 title holder of World’s Ugliest Dog and he hails from my neck of the woods – in southern New Jersey. Elwood’s mom, Karen Quigley, doesn’t really think her dog is ugly. But she was coerced into entering the contest by a good friend.
Elwood came in second place in 2006 but took the crown for 2007. Instead of resting on their laurels, Karen decided to use Elwood’s fame to help others. Although he has no formal certification as a therapy dog, Elwood accompanies Karen to schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other events.
The effect this diminutive creature has on children and adults considered to be outside the realm of acceptable societal standards is nothing short of miraculous. Elwood is a mere five pounds of Chinese Crested/Chihuahua mix. He has missing teeth which makes his tongue hang out his mouth and of course the hairless body makes a few human eyebrows arch up in surprise.
When he wears his bling collar — with his name in rhinestones — Elwood knows he is going to work. His attitude lights up all who meet him. Karen so believed in Elwood’s message that she wrote a children’s book about him titled Everybody Loves Elwood. The messages it relays are: it’s okay to be different; you don’t have to be beautiful to be lovable and by all means — treat animals well!
Due to Elwood’s celebrity, Karen received a call from a mother a few years ago asking her to bring Elwood to her daughter’s school. The little girl suffers from Alopecia and the mother thought it might help her daughter to not feel so different and shunned.
The beautiful thank you note Karen received from the girl’s mother was proof of Elwood’s magic. The children at her school were now treating her with more understanding and respect, and the girl got a big increase in self-esteem from meeting Elwood.
Elwood inspired Karen to return to college for a degree in special education. As a teenager it was her dream, but life took her in another direction. Karen graduated from Gloucester County Community College last year and was asked to give the commencement address, along with Elwood. She is continuing her educational dream at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Each donned a cap and gown, and Karen and Elwood stood at the podium and addressed the crowd.
Some excerpts from Karen speech:
“[Elwood] became the face that reminded all of us that it’s okay to be different.”
“Sadly, we live in a world that wants ‘perfection’…we want the perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect children…yet, Elwood reminds everyone that we do not need to be perfect to be loved. I knew his story needed to be shared – the story of a funny-looking puppy that NO one wanted because he was different, but who believes in himself and the importance of kindness and helping others less fortunate than he is – and, before he knows it….Everyone LOVES Elwood.”
“Elwood and I are a team. HE is the message and I am his voice. Elwood is a little pup…but his message is powerful: the message for ALL of us to be kind and tolerant of differences.”
I think Elwood is not only magical and beautiful — but inspirational, as well. It’s good to know he and his mom have promoted tolerance and helping others as the by-product of his celebrity. Elwood and Karen are a real class act!
Photo of Karen Quigley with Elwood at graduation used with permission of Karen Quigley.