As It Happens

Meet Mr. Happy Face, the World's Ugliest Dog with the 'sweetest soul'

When Jeneda Benally registered Mr. Happy Face for the World’s Ugliest Dog competition, she didn’t think he could possibly win because he’s “too beautiful.”

A Chihuahua-Chinese crested mix, rescued from neglect and hoarding, takes home top prize at annual contest

A gray, bald-bodied Chihuahua lies on the grass and tilts its head to one side. He has a mohawk-style tuft of white hair atop his head, and scraggly little bits if white hairs checkering his face. He has a black nose and black wrinkled lips, from which produce a long pink tongue. His big, long ears stick off to the sides like a bat.
Mr. Happy Face won the World's Ugliest Dog Competition in Petaluma, Calif., on June 24. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

When Jeneda Benally registered Mr. Happy Face for the World's Ugliest Dog contest, she didn't think he could possibly win because he's "too beautiful."

But the rescued 17-year-old Chihuahua-Chinese crested mix with a protruding tongue, tilted head and white mohawk came out on top.

"I describe Mr. Happy Face as having the ears of a bat, the tufted hair like Robert Smith from The Cure, a tongue longer than Gene Simmons quite possibly, a snarl just as cool as Billy Idol, and he's got eyes that are filled with so much love," Benally told As It Happens guest host Ginella Massa.

"I think Mr. Happy Face is a glorious creature."

'Homely hounds and the humans who love them'

The World's Ugliest Dog contest, held annually at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, Calif., "celebrates homely hounds and the humans who love them," the contest organizers said in a press release.

The idea is to promote adoption and rescue, especially for pooches that might otherwise be overlooked. The winner gets a $1,500 US ($1,930 Cdn) prize and a trip to New York City to appear on the Today show.

"Many of the contestant dogs have been rescued from shelters and puppy mills, to find loving homes in the hands of those willing to adopt," the organizers wrote.

A woman with clear pinkish sunglasses, smiling with mouth agape, holds up a small dog in her hands. He's a gray Chihuahua-Chinese crested mix with a bald body and a tuft of mohawk-style white hair on his head. His his is titled to one side, and his pink tongue is producing from his wrinkly black lips. The way he's being held shows his pink, bald belly.
Jeneda Benally holds up Mr. Happy Face as she reacts to the news that he'd been crowned World's Ugliest Dog. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Mr. Happy Face exemplifies that mission perfectly.

"He's getting a lot of extra attention, and I think that's pretty fabulous for him. I mean, considering that when I adopted him from the shelter just 10 months ago, he was considered to be probably the most unadoptable dog there," Benally said.

That's not just because of his unusual esthetic. He also has tumours and neurological issues that require lifelong medicine and medical care.

Three people in sunglasses stand side by side holding small, wrinkly dogs.
Benally, centre, holds up Mr. Happy Face. On the right is Ann Lewis of Coos Bay, Ore., with her dog Wild Thing, the second-place winner of the World's Ugliest Dog contest. On the left is Scotch Haley of Pleasant Hill, Calif., with his dog Monkey, the third place winner. (D. Ross Cameron/The Associated Press)

As a survivor of neglect and hoarding, he's also got some psychological wounds.

"When I adopted him, he was afraid of human touch," Benally said. "It took three months until I was allowed to touch Mr. Happy Face's face."

Benally says that when she adopted Mr. Happy Face, she was told he only had an estimated six weeks to live at the most. She took him home anyway, hoping to provide some love and comfort in his final days.

Ten months later, he's going strong.

"So it definitely shows what love and caring and nurturing can do to someone's life," she said.

A woman in pinkish orange sunglasses, jeans, and a T-shirt that reads 'Old dogs rock,' smiles and squats on stage next to a small Chihuahua-Chinese crested dog mix with a bald gray body, a white tuft of hair, a head that tilts sideways, and a pick tongue that protrudes from the side of his wrinkly mouth.
Benally on stage with Mr. Happy Face on stage during the World's Ugliest Dog competition. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Nowadays, Benally says Mr. Happy Face is thriving and spreading joy wherever he goes. She's a musician and plans to take the pooch on tour with her this summer, and host meet and greets with him before and after each show. She's also hoping to set up some visitations with children's hospitals.

"Even though I named him Mr. Happy Face because I thought his face was happy, I have seen the joy and the happiness, the smiles, that he brings to other people's faces," she said.

"So I kind of feel like, well, maybe I named him because it's the effect that he has on people. And maybe I just didn't know that yet."

Benally supports the contest's mission to promote adoption. As a Navajo woman, she says she wants to use Mr. Happy Face's newfound fame to promote organizations that help "rez dogs" — stray dogs that live in First Nations or Native American reservations — including the Blackhat Humane Society, Mountain Girl Rescue and the Tuba City Humane Society.

After all, she says doing something kind is the best way to honour Mr. Happy Face — a dog who, despite his "Ugliest" title, brings beauty to the world.

"He is the sweetest soul that one could ever hope to encounter in their life," she said.


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Swoger.

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