A Beauty Contest with Drooling Contestants

English bulldog Lucy Brown! (yes, the exclamation point is part of her name) has sandy blonde fur, an extra-wide smile and droopy lolling tongue: endearing qualities that helped earn her the title of Beautiful Bulldog during today’s 32nd Annual Drake University Beautiful Bulldog Contest.

View a Flickr gallery of photos from the 2011 Beautiful Bulldog Contest.

Judges unanimously chose Lucy over 42 other contestants following a pageant at the Drake Fieldhouse. Owner Nancy Brown of Johnston, IA, wore a poodle skirt and her two sons — Aaron, 11, and Colin, 7 — donned black leather jackets and dark sunglasses as they ushered the victor to her throne.

“She loves people and she loves other dogs,” Nancy Brown said. “She’s very funny. She always makes me laugh, every single day.”

Lucy, a third-time contestant who won “Miss Congeniality” at last year’s event, loves to have her belly rubbed.

If she hands you her paw, she isn’t looking for a handshake — she loves to have her paw scratched.

“All five of our judges had her down as the top dog,” said Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield-Clubb, a perennial judge at the contest. “You want a face that’s tough but kind. That’s the Drake way. Lucy looks the part. She has a great personality and she’s a very loveable bulldog.”

Tank, Hades, Hemi and Crown Vincent da Mobster may seem like odd names for beauty candidates, but this is no ordinary pageant. The Beautiful Bulldog Contest, a Drake Relays tradition entering its 32nd year, was

the first of its kind in the nation and continues to be a model (get it?) for imitators from several states.

At the inaugural contest in 1979, Channel 8 News in Des Moines sent a reporter to cover the event live. That reporter, Dolph Pulliam, is now the chief organizer and voice of the Beautiful Bulldog Contest and the director of community outreach and development for Drake University.

“It’s a labor of love,” Pulliam says. “Little did we know that so many people around the world would care about the contest. It’s garnered more attention for Drake and Des Moines than I ever imagined.”

Major American institutions like The New York Times, as well as media conglomerates from around the globe, have zeroed in on the Beautiful Bulldog Contest and its wrinkled, slobbery contestants. Last year, Pulliam recalls, he spoke with a correspondent who was reporting for a syndicate of news outlets in Asia, where the contest is followed closely.

Kati and Ryan Anderson, owners of current Beautiful Bulldog Meatball, say they were floored by the attention.

“We were just going to have a good time and see the other bulldogs, and did not expect to win, but it was a great surprise,” Kati says. “Oh my goodness, the next two or three weeks were so much fun. It was crazy just seeing a dog get all that press.”

Follow Lucy Brown!, this year’s Beautiful Bulldog on Twitter @BulldogRoyalty.

This year’s contestants:
Tank (Oldest Bulldog: 9.1 years)
Lucy Brown! (2011 Beautiful Bulldog)
Beatrice Bea
Zza Zza
Trudy Blanche Kubin (Farthest from the Doghouse: 675 miles)
Bella Rose
Layla (Youngest Bulldog: 6 months)
Titus Maximus
Alexis Lucille
Marby’s Love at First Bite Apple
Gabby (Princess Gabriella Sparkles a la Mode) (Second Farthest from the Doghouse)
Crown Vincent da Mobster (Runner-up)
Stone Meadows Rhett Butler
Gunney (Best Dressed)
Maxxis (Mr. Congeniality)
Princess Lovie Bear
Daisy Bear
Meatball Marinara
Zena, the Warrior Princess (Miss Congeniality)

Running the show

In its three decades of existence, the contest has changed little. The titles — Beautiful Bulldog, Miss and Mr. Congeniality, Best Dressed, Farthest from the Dog House, Youngest and Oldest — and winner’s duties have remained constant. The past few years, though, have seen so many entries that this year’s contestants were selected by lottery from a pool of more than 100 Beautiful Bulldog wannabes.

Each contestant receives a gift package of dog treats and a special collar, and the winner receives a smorgasbord of honors and prizes. In addition to the privileged titles of Beautiful Bulldog (which comes with a crown, cape and throne) and official Drake Relays mascot, the chosen one is awarded a dog-friendly cake, a bouquet of blue and white flowers, a Drake Relays gold medal and a key to the City of Des Moines, presented by the mayor.

Misdemeanors and Good Behavior

Despite its generally well-behaved participants and family friendly atmosphere, the Beautiful Bulldog Contest has also been rocked by scandal. ln 1988 the winning bulldog, Mugzy, was incarcerated on his coronation day. Mugzy, exhausted after several hours of events, nipped then-Drake student Cindy Schieber on the nose and was temporarily impounded under city law.

A “Free Mugzy” campaign ensued, with a dog biscuit collection and posters calling for the dog’s exoneration. Then-Mayor of Des Moines John “Pat” Dorrian responded to the campaign, giving Mugzy a one-day pass to take his position in the Drake Relays Parade before serving the rest of his 14-day sentence.

Unlike Mugzy, most Beautiful Bulldogs serve without incident. In fact, some dogs display exemplary demeanor and add substantially to the myth and legend of the Beautiful Bulldog. One such dog even became a routine part of Drake basketball games, leading the team onto the court before every game.

“Porterhouse [the 2009 Beautiful Bulldog winner and current Drake Athletics live mascot] has set the standard by which all future bulldogs will be chosen,” says Pulliam. “All of the characteristics that Porterhouse has are just perfect for a Beautiful Bulldog.”

— Danny Akright, JO’10, AS’10

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