Puppies as Prizes on Toddlers & Tiaras? Shame on You, TLC
TLC's reality show Toddlers & Tiaras is controversial because it shows little girls -- even babies -- flaunting stripperish costumes and stripperish moves in beauty pageants. But controversy is now surging over another aspect of the show: Some of these pageants give away puppies as prizes.
We've heard of winning goldfish in toss-the-ball carnival games. But dogs? Is this even legal?
A new petition posted at Change.org laments: "These puppies are given as prizes to children who are not ready for the responsibility. ... Once the puppy is no longer a puppy, it is often sent off to a shelter where it will likely be put down."
In one T&T episode, two puppies that appear to be Pugs are displayed in baskets to a shrieking crowd of contestants and moms as an MC booms, "Now is the moment we've all been waiting for: We've got puppies!"
The camera cuts to 5-year-old Makynli Miller, who predicts: "I think I'm gonna win one."
She does. Clutching a basket containing a puppy and a gigantic glittering coronet, she boasts, "I won a li'l puppy. I won a crown." She draws out the word "pup-peeee" with a gloating, greedy, hard-eyed glee. You probably wouldn't want to play Barbies with this kid. "My li'l puppy is cute," she says, "like me."
Four months later, Makynli's pageant coach told Pet News Examiner that Makynli and her family had named the puppy Petey and "were crazy about him. Unfortunately he was run over just a few weeks ago."
"Getting a puppy should be something that is done with much thought and consideration, especially when one has a toddler who needs to be supervised all the time, especially around a dog," says school administrator and former special-education teacher Abbie Schiff, who used to raise Akitas professionally. "Parents should make this decision after carefully considering the many factors that would go into assuming this enormous responsibility."
In a recent episode, contestants at an Indiana pageant vie to be named "the Ultimate Face."
"The Ultimate Face is gonna win a puppy," the pageant director declares as a terrified-looking Chihuahua is displayed. "When you've got money and puppies as prizes, the rivalry can get pretty heated."
The puppy is shown peering anxiously from a carrier. In no conceivable way could it be said that this dog is having a good time. Do the producers find this funny?
"My beauty be perfect," announces 5-year-old Bridgett. "Maybe I'll win the puppy." As powder is poufed onto her face, she says: "I'm gonna take that dog home."
"We just got a new dog," Bridgett's mother sighs. "So we don't really need a puppy. I'd rather have the money that the puppy's worth."
"I'm gonna win that doggie," Bridgett insists.
Her competitors harbor the same hope. "I wanna win the Ultimate Face," declares 8-year-old Daisey Mae, "so I can get another puppy."
Jacy, also 8, says she wants the dog as well.
"I don't want Jacy to win it," Bridgett seethes.
But none of these three are the Ultimate Face. When a tall blonde named Alaska wins, Bridgett bursts into tears. "Bridgett is crying over a stupid dog," her mother rails. "She had a meltdown today over a stupid dog because she didn't win the dog."
Jacy sobs too: "I wanted that puppy. I want that puppy." They all ask Alaska to let them hold her new prize. She refuses, clasping the trembling Chihuahua to her chest. "No. I just won it. C'mon, people," Alaska protests.
Excuse me, but randomly matching a dog with whoever happens to win? On how many levels is this wrong? Human-dog chemistry is almost as complex as human-human chemistry. Winning a puppy is like being forced to marry your blind date. And Chihuahua puppies have special needs. Their tiny size makes them especially fragile and thus at risk around young children.
"A puppy cannot be put back into a box and put on the shelf to be played with when the child is older," Schiff told Dogster.
What if a pageant winner and/or her parents don't want a dog -- or don't even like dogs? What if they live in a place where dogs are not allowed or cannot thrive? Then, as feared by the Change.org petitioner, the prize goes to a shelter -- or is sold.
Worst of all, puppies offered as prizes become objectified. In the eyes of young contestants who "want that puppy," just as athletes want that medal and gamblers want that jackpot, puppies-as-prizes are not living, breathing creatures but material proof of superiority -- soft, furry fuel for egomania.
"Facial beauty is the most important thing in life," Daisey Mae explains during the Ultimate Face pageant.
Are puppies a just reward for being the fairest in the land?