Nineteen canine competitors flocked to California’s Sonoma County last Friday, all pawing for the coveted title of World’s Ugliest Dog. Among them was Willie Wonka, an American Staffordshire Terrier mix born with twisted legs and deformed front paws; Rascal Deux, a hairless, dentally challenged “mutant”; and Josie, an eight-time veteran of the contest, which has been taking place for nearly three decades, with bulging eyes and a too-long tongue. But only one pooch could be crowned the ugliest of them all. And that pooch was Scamp the Tramp.
Scamp, according to Derrick Bryson Taylor of the New York Times, is a dog of unknown breeding, with a plump body and two-inch-long legs. He has Yoda-like ears and wild hair that grows naturally in dreadlocks. His tongue lolls perpetually. Now, Scamp and his human, Yvonne Morones, are the recipients of a towering trophy and $1,500.
“He’s Scamp the Champ, no longer Scamp the Tramp,” Morones quips in an interview with Andrew Beale of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.
The Ugliest Dog Contest’s pool of competitors was especially strong this year, so much so that the judges had a hard time picking just one pup. Once they had narrowed the contestants down to four, the judges asked the audience to cheer loudly for their favorite. Scamp was the clear winner.
Climbing to the top of the ugliest dog totem pole is no easy feat. Boasting a wonky appearance isn’t enough; dogs must also impress the judges and audience with their personalities and accomplishments. Scamp, according to his biography, regularly visits a local senior center and volunteers as a “reading dog,” letting first-graders read stories to him. His favorite book, his bio notes, is Go Dog Go.
“I think the audience saw his beautiful spirit and everything he’s given back to the community,” Morones tells Beale.
The competition’s second-place honor went to Wild Thang, a bushy-haired Pekingese who once contracted distemper, a viral disease that left Wild Thang with slight paralysis of the jaw and a front leg that never stops paddling. Tostito, a chihuahua who lacks teeth and a lower jaw, won third place and the Spirit Award, according to John Rogers of the Associated Press. As champion, Scamp joins the ranks of previous competition winners including Zsa Zsa the English bulldog and Martha the Neapolitan mastiff.
Scamp was found wandering the streets of Compton—“licking Taco Bell wrappers,” according to Taylor of the Times—and was adopted by Morones in 2014.
“It was on the way home that I knew I made the right choice,” she says. “There we were, two strangers in a car on the way home to a new start. Bob Marley was playing … and I looked over and little Scamp was bobbing his head. It was like he knew he had found his forever home.”
The Ugliest Dog Contest is without a doubt entertaining, but it also hopes to impart a serious message: Even dogs without a pedigree, or dogs that don’t quite measure up to standards of conventional canine beauty, are worthy of love and celebration. Many of the contestants, according to the competition’s website, have been rescued from shelters or puppy mills, and the contest organizers seek to promote adoption as an option for potential pet owners—“no matter [the dogs’] physical detractions.”
As part of their prize, Morones and Scamp were flown to New York for an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show.” There, Morones revealed that she was the owner of two previous Ugliest Dog winners—one of whom, Nana, took home the title six times.
In her opinion, Morones said, she doesn’t believe that her latest prize-winning pooch is ugly at all.
“He’s absolutely adorable,” she said. “When people first meet him, they go, ‘Oh, he’s kind of scary’ and then he wins them over with his sparkling personality.”