Mugly served as a therapy dog for years, participating in reading programs for children and visiting adults with physical disabilities and learning challenges as part of a British organization, Therapy Dogs Nationwide.
He is now 12 years old and retired as a therapy dog — but his work has not gone without recognition: Last weekend, Mugly won the 2016 Heroic Hounds award at the National Pet Show in London.
“He amazes me with his ability to know exactly how to be when he meets people,” his owner, Bev Nicholson, told the Wisbech Standard. “With a blind person, he stands completely still and lets them explore him; or when someone is upset, he pushes his body into them for comfort.”
The Chinese crested dog is, according to the American Kennel Club, “a toy dog, fine-boned, elegant and graceful. The distinct varieties are born in the same litter. The Hairless with hair only on the head, tail and feet and the Powderpuff, completely covered with hair. The breed serves as a loving companion, playful and entertaining.”
The American Kennel Club’s “breed standard” listing for the Chinese crested dog does not include any judgmental descriptions — neither “ugly,” nor “homely,” not even “unattractive.” Nor, however, does the AKC describe the breed as “handsome.”
In 2012, Mugly won the annual World’s Ugliest Dog competition in California, where organizers said dogs were judged for their “natural ugliness in both pedigree and mutt classes,” the Associated Press reported at the time.
The AP noted that Mugly’s “short snout, beady eyes and white whiskers” helped earn him the international title, seven years after he won Britain’s ugliest dog contest.
A writer for the Sun once likened meeting Mugly to “coming face to face with the Harry Potter character Dobby the House Elf. His leathery ears look like they’ve been flattened by a steam roller. His only hair is the odd tuft sticking up on his head and even his whiskers are crooked.”
The writer continued: “As Mugly sticks his huge, frog-like eyes towards my face, it’s like being inspected by Yoda’s less attractive younger brother. But Mugly’s hideous looks have won him fame and fortune.”
“He is just so sensitive and for a little dog that is up against it in the looks department he really makes up for it with his personality and sensitivity,” Nicholson said last month. “People fall in love with him as soon as they meet him.”
Well, maybe not all people.
Last year, Nicholson told the Sun: “I was walking Mugly recently and one old lady shrieked, ‘Is that a rat?’
“Lots of old ladies gasp in horror and other people ask to take his photograph.”
Nicholson said she and Mugly found each other in 2004, while she was looking for a dog.
“I saw dozens of perfectly sweet pooches with fluffy white fur — but nothing seemed to click,” she told the Sun. “One day my friend went to a rescue center in Wales and saw a tiny, skinny hairless puppy who had been dumped by a breeder. He had been bred as a pedigree Chinese Crested, but when he was born hairless and wrinkled and with no value, the breeder abandoned him at the rescue center.
“The puppy was jut three weeks old, and weak with hunger. His life was saved because a Shih Tzu at the dog’s home had just given birth to her own little of white fluffy puppies. She accepted the tiny new orphan as her adopted puppy, and allowed him to feed.
“My friend saw the strange-looking puppy at the rescue center and sent me his photograph as a joke – texting: ‘Ha ha I’ve found the dog for you!’ But as soon as I saw the tiny bald face on my phone, my heart lurched. I rang the rescue center, and begged them to let me take the puppy when he was strong enough. The owner said he was so weak he may not survive — so I rang every morning to see if he had made it through the night.”
The dog was eventually healthy enough to travel by train to London, where he met his new owner.
“He looked at me through strange beady eyes, and it was love at first sight,” she told the Sun, adding: “I decided to call him Mugly — a mixture of Mutt and Ugly. The name perfectly summed him up.”
But, Nicholson told the British newspaper, it wasn’t long before she started to see him differently.
“In 2010,” the Sun noted, “Bev’s son Glenn needed a 13-hour brain operation to save his life.”
Said Nicholson: “When he returned home, Mugly instantly knew there was something wrong. He refused to leave Glenn’s side, sitting loyally beside his bed and constantly checking to see Glenn was okay.
“I realized then that Mugly may be ugly on the outside — but underneath the spots and warts, he’s really beautiful with a heart of gold.”