It’s been a whirlwind week for Jeneda Benally and her 17-year-old pup Mr. Happy Face.
Over the weekend, the Chinese Crested Chihuahua mix from Flagstaff was named the 2022 Worlds Ugliest Dog at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Northern California.
“Now it’s not just my love that he has, he has the love of the world and who could have ever imagined that?” said Benally. “I’m so proud to be his doggie mom.”
She says it’s a far cry from where he was not long ago.
Malnourished and neglected, Mr. Happy Face had been rescued from an animal hoarding situation.
Benally took him home from an Arizona shelter in August of last year after she asked if any dogs were struggling to be adopted.
“Before he was brought out, I was warned that he could be inbred, that he looked like he was an alien,” said Benally.
Despite his leathery skin, toothless grin, and, of course, his incredibly massive tongue, their connection was instant.
“Sometimes the most beautiful friendships are forged from the ugliest of situations,” said Benally.
She says she entered him into the contest on a whim, planning to be in the area of the contest with a youth group learning how to start their own podcast.
“I had already carved out a chunk of time to be up in Northern California with a group of youth that I’m working with piloting our first radio show called Indigenous Youth Nation,” said Benally, who grew up on the Navajo Nation.
She says one of the kids told her about the contest happening in the same area, she entered Mr. Happy Face into the contest, and the rest is history.
She admitted she had no idea what was in store after his stunning victory.
“We were flown to New York City to be on The Today Show. It seemed that, overnight, being in New York City, we couldn’t go down a block of the street without Mr. Happy Face being recognized,” said Benally. “People were stopping to take selfies.”
After meeting adoring fans on Broadway, the two finally flew home, finally able to reflect on what this contest is truly about and the message we can all take away from it.
“It celebrates the beauty of uniqueness, for dogs that are just not considered to be the cutest but their 'Picasso perfect,'” said Benally.