The head judge of the World's Ugliest Dog competition reveals how he picks 'winners'
In the high-stakes world of competitive dog shows, veteran judge Brian Sobel says first impressions make all the difference.
"I'll see the animal and say, 'Oh boy. Now this one gets my attention - from bulging eyeballs to growths to a tail that looks like it comes from another species. Maybe a tongue hanging out,'" Sobel told Business Insider.
The World's Ugliest Dog contest, which Sobel has judged for about 10 years, celebrates the pooches whose faces only a mother could love.. On Sunday, a panel of judges crowned Martha - a 125-pound Neapolitan mastiff with bloodshot eyes, buckets of drool, and baggy skin - the 2017 contest winner.
"This is 125 pounds of dog and 300 pounds of skin," Sobel remembered thinking when he first saw Martha. "It looked like something you see after someone has weight loss surgery."
Martha, who is three and a half years old, is a sight to behold. The so-called "gentle giant" stands on oversized paws. Fuzzy folds of skin hang over her eyes - and every other part of her body. Despite having two corrective surgeries on her red and saggy eyes, Martha remains blind in one of them. She lives with her rescuer, Jessica Burkard of Penngrove, California.
At the World's Ugliest Dog competition, held at the Sonoma-Marin Fair, contestants walk on a runway before the judges. Sobel said he evaluates the dogs on three categories: personality, appearance, and audience reaction. There are no scoring sheets or physical examinations.
"This isn't the Westminster Dog Show. It's the polar opposite of that. If a dog walks straight and looks perfect, like my former Labrador Retriever, he's not going to make it," Sobel said.
Sobel said when they announced Martha as the winner, she laid down on the stage and remained totally unfazed by the photographers swarming around her.
"The jowls spread out three feet on each side of its face. It was really a unique dog," Sobel said.
The winning pup and its owner receive $1,500, a trophy, a free trip to New York City for media appearances, and bragging rights on the next trip to the dog park.
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