You little beauty! Snaggle-toothed and abandoned as a puppy, Mugly has triumphed as Ugliest Dog In The World. Now a moving documentary charts his journey to stardom
23:00 GMT, 3 August 2012
23:00 GMT, 3 August 2012
Fairytales are filled with stories of ugly ducklings and Quasimodos, who are shunned because of their looks, but who overcome such adversity that they emerge as true heroes.
Now, there’s a real-life version – one who nods a bald and wizened head at convention, who with two bulging eyeballs stares misfortune in the face, and who cocks a leg at fame itself.
We’re talking about Mugly – voted by a panel of judges in the US as the ugliest dog in the world, and now star of his very own Channel 5 documentary, Mutt Ugly.
Mugly was voted the world's ugliest dog and now he has his own show
I’m sitting, face to face, with the great one himself and it’s an uncomfortable moment. It is like facing Yoda’s less attractive younger brother. And yet, as he gazes intently into my eyes I feel myself falling in love. He has odd tufts of hair sticking from his face, crooked whiskers, a wart under one eye and leathery ears which move up and down in the manner of Harry Potter’s friend Dobby the house elf.
It is Mugly’s extraordinary personality and truly appalling looks which won over the hearts of hard-nosed TV executives.
Owner Bev Nicholson, 49, from Peterborough, Cambs, had been searching for a dog without success. She says, ‘I wanted a rescue dog, and I looked at dozens of pretty, fluffy and perfect rescue dogs but none of them actually felt right. I had literally spent months searching for the right dog, when a friend of mine visited a rescue kennels in Wales.
‘She texted me a picture of a three-week-old Chinese Crested puppy who had been overbred, with the message, ‘I’ve found your dog. Ha ha ha.’ She meant it as a joke, but as soon as I saw the puppy’s tiny little face, my heart just lurched.
‘He was bald, and a little bundle of wrinkled skin, but I just fell in love. I rang the rescue home immediately – and it was just in time. The manager told me they were thinking of putting the puppy to sleep because no one had wanted him.’
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Three weeks later, Mugly had moved in with Bev and her son Glenn, 25 – and was making his mark. ‘Mugly had a huge personality from the start, with incredible facial expressions,’ says Bev. ‘He was full of mischief, and was stubborn. If he wanted to play, he’d sit and stare at me until I gave in.’ But Mugly had other hidden talents. ‘Mugly began staying by Glenn’s side, and refusing to leave him.
He had a sixth sense that something was wrong. It turned out that Glenn needed brain surgery.’ The dog now puts his sensitive side to good use as a Pets As Therapy Dog for children, paying visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes in the UK.
His sweet nature makes it all the harder for Bev when people react badly to her beloved mutt. ‘People screw up their noses and say, “Eurgh, is that a rat” or “Isn’t that ugly” and I say, “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror yet today” I feel so protective about him because I know what a wonderful temperament he has. To me, he is as beautiful on the outside as he is on the inside.’
But while the adoring Bev sees only beauty in Mugly, others agree that he is undoubtedly ugly. An accident at a dog show added to his unusual visage. Bev says, ‘We were at Crufts a few years ago, and another dog made Mugly jump. He banged his head on a solid box, and his front tooth fell out. The result was a rather more lopsided, gurning look.’
Mugly’s ‘beauty’ regime starts with a twice-daily application of moisturiser (or sun-tan lotion on hot days) to protect his skin. Bev says, ‘Mugly is also exfoliated once a week to keep his skin soft. I use the softest facial exfoliant. And if the pavement’s hot in summer, he wears boots.’
He first hit the headlines back in 2005, when the Daily Mail named him Britain’s Ugliest Dog. So when Bev discovered there was a contest for the World’s Ugliest Dog in California, she decided to make Mugly the first-ever British entry. ‘I needed money to get there, so I emailed Mugly’s picture to a film production company, and suggested that they join him.’
Executives at Dead or Alive Films answered back immediately. Executive producer Andrew Eastel, 32, says, ‘We took the idea to Channel 5, and handed a photo of Mugly around the room. There were lots of “Ooos” and ‘“Aaaas,” but not one person questioned that Mugly wasn’t right for this role.
He really was the ugliest dog any of us had ever seen. But at the same time, he was incredibly loveable. By the time we left the room, we were all convinced a new film star was born.’
A TV crew was dispatched to California, following Mugly and Bev on their flight and in their hotel, as they prepared for the contest then met their rivals. The claws were sharpened as it became clear that in America, the 24th annual World’s Ugliest Dog Contest was big business.
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Here, 28 of the planet’s most aesthetically challenged canines come together in an anti-beauty contest held in Petaluma, California. Mugly was clearly the underdog.
Andrew says, ‘Some of the American contestants were in this for fame and fortune. Californian Dane Andrew had bred three generations of winners, so his entrant, a Chinese Crested dog called Rascal, was the Tiger Woods of the ugly dog world. He did not want to lose. Meanwhile, last year’s winner, Kathleen Francis, brought her Chinese Crested-Chihuahua cross, which had one eye and what looked like flippers for feet.
‘As Mugly progressed through each round, the tension was thick in the air. All the film crew were caught up in it. By this time, everyone had fallen in love with Mugly – and we all wanted him to win.’ Bev says, ‘The crowd roared in support of Mugly, and I was overwhelmed with emotion.
I was so nervous, I forgot where I was supposed to stand, but Mugly just seemed to love the attention. When they announced, “The Brit has won it,” I actually nearly fell over. It was the most wonderful feeling – a bit like winning a world title fight. Then I saw the three-foot high trophy and I thought, “How on earth am I going to get that home on the plane”’
After winning the title, Mugly was flown to New York and taken by a chauffeur driven limo to appear on American TV. Bev says, ‘He had the time of his life. He sat with his head out of the window and his ears flapping, and he managed to cock his leg near some really famous landmarks.’
Back home, Mugly’s victory became the second-most-read story on the BBC news website, and the heavyweight National Geographic magazine even devoted pages to ‘The Evolution of Mugly’s Frightful Features’, with canine genetic scientists debating his ‘mutation’.
Bev donated her 640 prize money to dog shelters and a Chinese Crested rescue club and is now resting away from the limelight with Mugly. But publishers are planning a series of children’s books about him, and there’s even talk of a movie.
Andrew says, ‘It’s a moving story about a couple who are really devoted to one another. To meet Mugly is to fall in love with him. His ugly dog story is emotional, thrilling, moving and inspiring.’ All the elements, in fact, to make this a true modern-day fairytale.
Mutt Ugly, Sunday 19 August, 10pm, Channel 5.