Experience: I own the world’s ugliest puppy

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I knew I wasnt helping the situation by naming her Quasi Modo, but it stuck

When my colleague at the animal shelter called me to satisfy a puppy that had just been brought in, I couldnt believe what I was looking at. It was about 10 years ago, and a man had come in saying hed found three puppies and couldnt keep them. I wondered if I was on Candid Camera: Id worked at the shelter as a vet for 20 years, and had find thousands of animals, but never anything like this.

As he walked them towards the shelter, someone said, Hes meant to be bringing three dogs, but that ones a animal or something. Quasi Modo, as I afterward named her, was around a year old and had a birth defect called short spine syndrome: everything fused together in her back and she couldnt move her head. She still has to turn her whole body to look at anything.

Everyone at work knows I like the strange and unusual animals, and when no one claimed her, I quickly adopted her. I tried a lot of cute names Blooms, Tulips but none of them fitted. I knew I wasnt helping the situation by naming her Quasi Modo, but it stuck.

She gets unkind comments about her appearance. People find her and say, Ooh, whats that? I tell them its a puppy, and you insure them staring. But then shell go over and rub on their leg and theyll reach down and pet her. Shes very sweet and self-confident, even though youd got something that seems so strange might not be. When she walks past you, she taps her foot to yours its her route of saying, Hi, because she cant raise her head.

For years, friends said we should enter the Worlds Ugliest Dog contest in Petaluma, California, but its a long way from where we live in Florida and I never got around to it. Finally, two years ago, my husband and Quasi and I flew over and she came second. The crowd was so behind us that I thought we could win if we entered again.

So last summer we returned. There were 26 other puppies. They were uniformly ugly. The Chinese crested and Mexican hairless ones were all rotten teeth, missing fur and tongues hanging out. Quasi wasnt the ugliest, but she was definitely the most different-looking. A plenty of the little dogs recoil at mob, whereas Quasi was rubbing everyones legs and stimulating friends. When it is necessary to evaluate, the crowd were chanting her name and I believe the judges were too afraid not to pick her.

The night we won, we didnt sleep. After the competitor, we were taken to San Francisco and had a 2am shoot at a television studio, then ran straight on to a flight to New York. At the airport, everyone wanted selfies with Quasi and we had to keep moving to get on the plane. In Central Park, a man stopped us to demonstrate a clip of her on Russian news. Next we therefore flown to LA for Quasi to get a makeover on the Jimmy Kimmel talk show. For a while, we couldnt go anywhere without someone saying, Oh my God thats the dog from TV.

We had some criticism, people saying they thought it was cruel, but you have to have a sense of humour to go to an ugly dog competition. This isnt about making fun of her, its about celebrating our differences. We dont believe shes ugly, but we love her enough that we can have a little joke.

I wish Id known her as a puppy. I picture her small enough to hold in your hand, and shes with her brothers and sisters; theyre all normal little dogs and then theres this tiny hunchback. Working at the shelter, I could adopt all the beautiful purebreds if I wanted to; but Quasi shows that you dont need to be the most perfect-looking animal to be a loving pet. She gets on with all our other animals and snuggles up to one of our cats who likes sleeping with her.

I dont feel sorry for her. She teaches people tolerance, especially those who initially stare, because they think shes ugly or theyre afraid; she always wins them over. Shes taught me not to dwell on whats wrong in life. Shes not self-conscious. She doesnt look in the mirror and run, Oh, poor me. Shes the epitome of happiness.

As told to Candice Pires

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