The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The World’s Ugliest Dog is now a celebrity. Meet Mr. Happy Face.

Mr. Happy Face, 18, is the reigning champion of the World's Ugliest Dog contest. (Jeneda Benally)
4 min

Minutes after wrapping up their interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Jeneda Benally and her dog were about to step out of the set’s backstage area when Kesha approached them.

“OMG, is that him?! the pop star exclaimed. “Is that THE dog? Mr. Happy Face?”

“Yes,” Benally replied that early June morning. “You’re welcome to pet him if you’d like.”

The singer, who sported a beige cape suit and matching heels, stroked the few tufts of gray hair on Mr. Happy Face’s head as the Chinese crested Chihuahua mix, 17, looked her straight in the eyes, the kind of gaze he’d adopted since recently winning the title of world’s ugliest dog.

“This was the moment when perfection and perfect in his very own unique way met,” Benally told The Washington Post on Saturday.

Months earlier, the small canine — with a tongue longer than his head and wispy strands of hair covering his mostly bald skin — elicited strangers’ playful characterizations of gremlin, gargoyle, Quasimodo from “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”

Now the winner of the 2022 World’s Ugliest Dog contest has turned into a celebrity with his own Instagram account, trips to live morning TV shows and appearances in dozens of interviews with publications around the world.

“He loves the attention,” said Benally, 48. “He actually has learned how to pose for pictures.”

If it weren’t for her niece who on a lark encouraged her to submit Mr. Happy Face’s entry for the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, Benally probably never would have heard of the nearly 50-year-old competition celebrating the “imperfections that make all dogs unique.” Submissions for this year’s contest, which will take place on June 23 in Petaluma, Calif., are now open.

No one wanted Princess Fiona. Then the balding, potbellied pitbull met a little girl.

Benally met Mr. Happy Face, named Matthias at the time, in August 2021 at an Arizona shelter, she told The Post.

Her original plan was to leave the Yavapai Humane Society shelter in Prescott, Ariz., with a big protective dog, she said, but the animal she wanted had been adopted minutes before she arrived. So Benally asked the no-kill shelter to show her some dogs who were less likely to be adopted.

Cue Mr. Happy Face, who a shelter employee said might be part alien.

Mr. Happy face, who has some deformities and tumors, hobbled his way to Benally and looked her in the eyes flashing, asking for a second chance.

“He had so much hope in his eyes,” Benally said. “He spoke to my heart.”

And that’s all it took. Twenty minutes later, Benally left the shelter with Mr. Happy Face despite being told that he probably had six more weeks to live, if they were lucky.

But they were more fortunate than that.

With time, the dog who could barely walk and who shrieked when touched turned into one who runs after Benally and woofs in his sleep. He no longer takes any medication, Benally said over the phone as Mr. Happy Face barked excitedly with his sister Chaos.

“That’s not the bark of a decrepit old dog,” Benally said. “That’s the bark of a dog who loves life and is so fully loved.”

Bobi is the world’s oldest dog. Yours can live a long, happy life, too.

Since Mr. Happy Face won the contest, fans have contacted Benally to say his story inspired them to adopt the underdog, that friend who needs more care than others, senior pets who might not get immediate attention from pet adopters.

Benally, who submitted an entry for Mr. Happy Face on a whim last year, said those interested in participating should view the contest as a celebration of their dog’s uniqueness, not because of competition.

The contest, held annually as part of the Sonoma-Marin Fair, isn’t intended to make fun of “ugly” dogs, according to its website. Its organizers hope to teach that all animals can be loved, no matter how they look. Many of the contestants have been rescued from shelters and puppy mills. Last year’s second place winner, Wild Thang, is a distemper survivor with no teeth. Monkey, a 12-year-old Blue Factor Brussels Griffon, took home last year’s third place. She was rescued from a rough home when she was 1.

Mr. Happy Face spent his 18th birthday as a champion. He still has the energy to playfully run away when he needs a diaper change and loves going on long trips on his stroller.

“His outer body is decrepit and deformed,” Benally said. “But in my eyes, he’s absolutely adorable and I can tell that he’s happy to be alive and be loved.”

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