“Mr. Happy Face looks toward the camera before the start of the World’s Ugliest Dog Competition in Petaluma, California, on June 24, 2022. This 17-year-old Chinese crested won the competition, taking home the $1,500 prize. JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images
Who doesn’t love an underdog? And Mr. Happy Face, the new winner of the World’s Ugliest Dog competition at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California, might be the most under of underdogs. The contest, which was held June 24 after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus, is meant to promote the rescue of dogs regardless of their appearance. Mr. Happy Face, who beat out seven other contestants, gives that mission a run for its money.
A gray, hairless Chinese crested Chihuahua mix, Mr. Happy Face walks haltingly on bandy legs, his head cocked, tongue poking out rudely at all times. He sports a natural stylish Mohawk between two overlarge ears, which look very similar to Fidget the bat in Disney’s "Great Mouse Detective." But the resemblance stops there. As anyone with a heart knows, looks can be deceiving, especially where dogs are concerned.
Despite living in a hoarder’s home under awful conditions, suffering abuse and neglect, Mr. Happy Face managed to maintain a positive outlook on his dog’s life. Once out from under the hoarder’s thumb, he lived for "quite some time" at an animal shelter in Flagstaff, Arizona, according to eventual owner Jeneda Benally. In August 2021, she came to the shelter looking for a new dog to love.
She requested one particular dog, but upon learning it was already adopted, asked if there were similar ones available. The staff mentioned Mr. Happy Face, warning her that he was much older, with significant health issues, and might even be inbred because he was so ugly.
Writing in an online biography about Mr. Happy Face, Benally says she was told by a veterinarian at the shelter that adopting the 17-year-old dog would be an "act of hospice." No one expected him to survive beyond another month.
However, Benally wrote, "He was the happiest creature that I’d ever met. He hobbled up to me and chose me. I vowed that day he would be so loved that he would never remember how awful his previous life had been."
Some 10 months later, Mr. Happy Face is thriving in an environment that includes lots of sleeping, eating stinky things, mommy kisses and being the center of Benally’s pet universe, which includes other "four- and three-legged fur siblings." He has to wear a diaper, takes medication for neurological issues and multiple tumors, and will continue for the rest of his life.
Benally described the sound he makes when he’s happy as that of a "Dodge Ram diesel truck revving his engine," but she added that despite Mr. Happy Face’s newfound fame, he will undoubtedly remain a humble soul able to teach humans that "even old dogs need love and a family too."
Turns out, she and Huey Lewis were right. The "power of love is a curious thing."
Now That’s Cool
The World’s Ugliest Dog contest has been going on for nearly 50 years. The prize for winning the contest is $1,500 and a trip to New York City to appear on the "Today" show.