By MANETTE KOHLER, DVM

The red carpet was rolled out on June 23 at the Sonoma-Marin Fair for the 30th annual World’s Ugliest Dog contest in Petaluma, California. Many worthy competitors shuffled, snorted and slobbered their way down the red carpet to strut their stuff for the judges, vying for the coveted, prestigious title.
The winner, sporting a beautiful pink collar and matching toes, was Zsa Zsa, a 9-year-old English Bulldog from Anoka, Minnesota. It wasn’t her fashion sense, however, that caught the judges’ attention. Zsa Zsa embodies the well-known English Bulldog physical traits including short legs, massive shoulders, chest and head, and wrinkled face, but her most endearing quality has to be her incredible, lolling tongue, hanging just inches from the ground thanks to an over-pronounced under bite and crooked teeth, both top and bottom.

Zsa Zsa’s owner, Megan Brainard of Anoka, Minnesota, was over the moon with excitement when the judges crowned Zsa Zsa the winner of the contest. As if sneezing and flinging drool on the judges wasn’t enough to tip things in her favor, Megan feels it was Zsa Zsa’s awesome personality that won the judges over.

“Everyone loved her the second they laid eyes on her!” says Brainard. “The audience couldn’t get enough of her.” Zsa Zsa and Brainard received $1,500 and an impressive trophy. NBC flew Brainard, her fiancé, her father, her baby and Zsa Zsa to New York City for a three-day visit and an appearance on the Today Show.
While lovingly mocking beauty-challenged dogs may be one part of the contest, it is actually a celebration of the contestants, many of which were rescued from puppy mills and shelters and promotes the idea of adopting dogs in need of homes. Zsa Zsa herself was a puppy mill survivor.

“She was a breeding dog in a puppy mill in Missouri,” says Brainard. Identified by a number instead of a name, she ended up at an auction when the mill was done with her where Underdog Rescue in Minnesota purchased her. Brainard owns two grooming shops, and when she saw Zsa Zsa on Petfinder four years ago she messaged the rescue group offering to groom her for free. “She was exactly how I thought she would be…. Sweet and such a ham!” shares Brainard. After all she’d been through, Brainard was amazed at how “go-with-the-flow” and happy she always seemed to be. “We groom many puppy mill dogs who act quite the opposite,” says Brainard. Needless to say, Brainard’s home became Zsa Zsa’s home.

When asked about the inspiration for her name, Brainard described how Zsa Zsa used to lounge on her bed, looking like she was modeling. “I googled famous models and saw Zsa Zsa Gabor,” says Brainard. “I just knew that was going to be her name!” Lounging was actually Zsa Zsa’s favorite thing to do, be it on her pink leather bed or the couch. Toys weren’t her thing, but she loved going for car rides, watching “The Price is Right” with Brainard’s father, and having a snack at Chipotle.

All of Zsa Zsa’s favorite things are now past tense as, sadly, Zsa Zsa passed away in her sleep a few weeks after she won the contest. While she did have some typical signs of poor breeding, most of which helped her win the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, she had no life-threatening health problems that Brainard was aware of. Brainard’s heart is broken and she is still trying to process Zsa Zsa’s win, her fame and her passing. They had so many plans to help rescue groups, be advocates to expose puppy mills and get the word out to adopt rather than shop. But most of all, that Ugly Is Beautiful!

We can all do our part to expose and shut down puppy mills and their irresponsible breeding practices. While Zsa Zsa has gone over the Rainbow Bridge, her beautiful face can still be the inspiring face of change.

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