Photo: Sarah Andrews
Spike and Porterhouse become celebrities at Drake University during sporting events, but, early on, another mascot rallied support during games.
In order to have a face to reflect the symbol, Drake hosts an annual pageant called the Most Beautiful Bulldog contest. Each year, dozens of bulldogs parade around in front of a panel of judges each vying for the coveted title of Most Beautiful Bulldog and for the chance to represent Drake.
The tradition began 32 years ago, when two Drake alumni felt the need to have a real live bulldog to act as Drake’s mascot for the Relays. The first Most Beautiful Bulldog contest was small, with just a handful of competitors. Over time, it has evolved into much more.
“They loved the idea,” Dolph Pulliam, Drake’s director of community outreach and development said. “They got it started and we have kept it going all these years.” Pulliam has been organizing the contest since 1989.
The process for the contest begins in January when information regarding the contest is distributed to the public, and applications are submitted. Due to a growing amount of interest in participation, 50 bulldogs and five alternates are selected in a public drawing and are accepted into the contest.
The day of the contest is exciting and eventful not only for those participating in the competition, but also for the crowd that gathers to witness the festivities. Each dog in the contest is treated to its own beautiful station, chair and a red fire hydrant and is typically dressed to impress.
A group of five judges walks around to each station and rates the bulldogs to find winners for different categories such as Miss/Mister Congeniality, Best Dressed and, of course, Most Beautiful Bulldog.
Following the first round of evaluations, the bulldogs get the chance to strut on a pageant-style runway to show off before a final decision is made. As brief profiles provided by each bulldog’s owner are read, contestants are able to take this chance to show their character and impress the judges.
“A lot of times, the judges thought they made their selection, but after they see the fashion show and see the dogs’ personalities, the judges will fight it out until they find the right bulldog,” Pulliam said.
The Beautiful Bulldog contest is unlike any other dog show because, except for the fact that all contestants have to be English Bulldogs, there are very few requirements or criteria that judges are looking for when selecting the most beautiful dog.
“It’s not a best breed type of contest,” Kati Anderson, the owner of Meatball, last year’s winner, said. “It’s just based on the personality, which is what appealed to me about it.”
According to Pulliam, judges are looking for a bulldog that is a good representation of the true bulldog face, including bloodshot eyes, bags under the eyes, tongue sticking out, drool everywhere and a wiggle when it walks. The winner must also be kind, approachable and should love attention, since the winner is a central figure to the Drake Relays.
The winner of the contest receives excessive amounts of attention not only from the Drake and Des Moines area, but also nationally and internationally. Immediately after being named king or queen of the contest, the winner is given a robe, a crown, a bouquet of blue and white flowers, is seated on a throne and is given the key to the city by the mayor of Des Moines. Swarming press, huge crowds for the Relays and a plethora of appearances both locally and nationally throughout the oncoming year follows the chaos. The contest has been discussed on programs such as Regis and Kelly, Ellen Degeneres and David Letterman and has reached as far as Japan and Italy.
“We were shocked overall, and it was just so fun to see how many people knew Meatball from that one contest,” Anderson said. “We would go to events right after he won and people already knew him and would want to pet him or take pictures with him.”
Drake’s Most Beautiful Bulldog contest brings a squished and pudgy face to represent Drake and also puts smiles on faces around Des Moines and around the world.
“We were the first bulldog contest in the nation and we’re still going strong,” Pulliam said. “We’ve really started something here.”
If you’re going:
When: April 25 (Judging: 10 a.m. – noon, Pageant: noon – 1 p.m.)
Where: Nollen Plaza, Third Street and Locust