“I adopted the ugliest dog in the world, he is my most beautiful friend”

I adopted Mr. Happy Face in August 2021. Before that, his name was Mathias. I didn’t think it suited him because he always makes those around him smile; it brings a lot of joy.

Before adopting Mr. Happy Face, I had been looking for a rescue dog for months, then I found the Yavapai Humane Society, an animal shelter in Arizona.

I live in Flagstaff, Arizona so it was a two hour drive from the shelter. As soon as I arrived, I was told that the dogs I was interested in had already been taken, a few minutes before. I searched for other dogs to adopt, but didn’t seem to click with any.

I then asked one of the volunteers at the shelter if he had a dog that had the least chance of being adopted. It was then that Mr. Happy Face was brought to me. Before that, the volunteer warned me that Mr. Happy Face was very oldhe was 17 at the timeand that he had tumors and several health problems. I was also warned that Mr. Happy Face was not a pretty dog. I was very intrigued to see him because I was shocked to learn that a dog could have so many health problems.

As soon as Mr. Happy Face came to see me, he was limping because his shoulder had dislocated. He was also very slow when he walked, but despite his looks, I could see how happy he was that a human was showing genuine interest in him.

Jeneda and Mr. Happy, the ugliest dog in the world.
Jeneda Benally

I remember thinking: I’ve never seen a dog like that before. He had a lump on his chest, a tumor in his stomach, an eye condition that would require ointment for the rest of his life, and a dislocated shoulder. I knew the last chapter of his life couldn’t have been spent in a dog shelter.

Initially, I wanted to adopt a large dog, a breed similar to the German Shepherd. Even though there were a lot of dogs in this shelter, I couldn’t adapt to them. But Mr. Happy Face and I clicked right away.

In 2011, I adopted a chihuahua called Tsili; she is a certified therapy dog ​​and she has a great personality. That day, I had brought her with me to the shelter to help me decide which dog to adopt. I thought if Tsili got along with Mr. Happy Face and felt good about himself, I would take him home that day. Tsili was stunned by Mr. Happy Face’s appearance, but they got along well.

Mr. Happy Face is part of the Chinese Crested Chihuahua, but that’s all we know. He had a very traumatic upbringing and was found in a hoarder’s house with 100 other dogs. I later found out that the dogs in this house were badly neglected and abused. The tip of Mr. Happy Face’s tail had been intentionally broken off and tied into a loop. The dogs also survived by eating the decaying animal remains in the house. It was a horrible experience.

Unfortunately, many of these dogs had to be put down by the Yavapai Humane Society because they were in such poor health, but Mr. Happy Face survived.

When adopting Mr. Happy Face, I was told he had maybe six weeks to live, so I thought I would give him the last chapter of his life. But it’s been over a year and Mr. Happy Face is still going strong.

I come from an ancestral line of traditional practitioners specializing in indigenous medicine. Throughout my life, I have learned traditional Navajo bodywork and medicine from my father. My 90-year-old father and I adjusted every bone in Mr. Happy Face’s body. Before, he walked slowly, but now he runs after me.

Mr. Happy Face is such a different dog now. His eye has completely cleared up, so I don’t need to give him any more medicine. He also suffered from poor respiratory condition, to the point that his breathing became labored. I thought maybe he died the first night I brought him home. But thanks to our traditional medicinal methods, Mr. Happy Face can breathe, run and enjoy life better!

Mr Happy
Mr. Happy, the ugliest dog in the world.
Jeneda Benally

After watching a TV series featuring some of the ugliest dogs in the world, my niece suggested I sign up with Mr. Happy Face. In June 2022, the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest was held at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in California. At the time, I was already supposed to be in the area for a youth radio show called Indigenous Youth Nation. I wanted to do something fun with the young people who had worked very hard on this project. So, I went with them to collect Mr. Happy Face’s credentials.

I didn’t go there to win, and at the time I thought the idea was silly. But when I got there, it was fascinating to see all the underdogs there were. We enjoyed connecting with other people and watching unique dogs featured. Later that day, it was announced that Mr. Happy Face was the ugliest dog in the world champion.

I was shocked, as I felt he wasn’t the ugliest dog there. But still, it was important for me to attend, to remind people of the importance of adopting older dogs and dogs considered unsuitable.

Mr Happy
Mr. Happy, the ugliest dog in the world.
Jeneda Benally

Sometimes people look disgusted when they see Mr. Happy Face. A woman I had met was horrified and asked me, “What is that? Some reactions that Mr. Happy Face receives are not pleasant, but others are overjoyed and happy when they see him.

Since winning The World’s Ugliest Dog contest, Mr. Happy Face has gained a fanbase of people who follow his journey on Instagram, they often tell me that seeing Mr. Happy Face is the brightest part of their daytime. He uses his social media platform to raise funds for nonprofits and local animal rescue organizations.

Mr. Happy Face’s features don’t reflect his personality at all. His face is extremely happy when he looks at me. I firmly believe that the love we give is returned to us. So there is no ugliness except that in your heart. Mr. Happy Face’s heart is beautiful. His name reflects the faces of the people I often see. He often puts a smile on the face of the people he meets.

I adopted a dog into my world, but it seems the world has adopted Mr. Happy Face into its heart. I love sharing it with everyone because it makes such a difference in people’s lives.

Jeneda Benally is a composer and musician in an award-winning duo, Sihasin. She adopted Mr. Happy Face, the world’s ugliest dog, in August 2021. You can find her on Instagram here.

All opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.

As told to Newsweek associate editor Carine Harb.