A mournful, scraggle-toothed gaze, crooked ears and odd sprigs of white hair on an otherwise hairless body led a British visitor at the Sonoma-Marin Fair to glory Friday, winning the title of World's Ugliest Dog.
The Chinese crested dog named Mugly beat out a mopey Mexican hairless named Creature among the year's 29 contenders before an unprecedented crowd of about 500.
Mugly's caretaker, Bev Nicholson of Peterborough in eastern England, told a slew of camera crews from Britain, Germany, China, Brazil and the Bay Area that she was "so ecstatic" her legs were shaking.
"I can't even speak," said Nicholson, holding Mugly in one arm and a towering three-tiered trophy in the other. "Mugly, what is going on?"
The annual contest that began 24 years ago at the five-day fair has in recent years begun to draw international attention as photos of the bedraggled-yet-endearing creatures went viral.
The contest featured added pageantry this year as organizers accommodated two different documentary crews filming the show. One crew followed Mugly from the United Kingdom. The other filmmakers, John Beck and Don Lewis, were documenting the event for a film called "Worst in Show."
A limousine was staged to whisk the winner away for a complimentary night at the Sheraton Hotel in Petaluma. Nicholson also will receive $1,600, a photoshoot with Nuena Photography and a year's supply of dog cookies.
Before the show, veterinarian Matthew Carter with Central Animal Hospital gave each animal a general physical exam to ensure they were healthy and not being exploited for their ailments.
"We don't see any ugly animals in this practice," Carter said.
The 29 contestants' ugly beauty shone through to spectators Friday who, before the contest, mingled, petted and cuddled the animals.
They were a fantastically strange lot, with mangled ears, missing or crossed eyes, awkward mohawks and plenty of misplaced spots, tufts and lumps.
It was the third contest for one-eyed Handsome Hector, who sports a field of bumps on his neck, odd tufts of white hair and a sunburned tongue that always hangs out.
"I cook for him, clean for him, wash him in olive oil and jasmine soap, he's got it made," said his caretaker, Ghada Marta of San Rafael.
Television personality and "pet psychic" Sonya Fitzpatrick emceed the event and told a raucous crowd that none of the much-loved dogs was truly ugly.
Sebastopol brothers Jackson and Eli Nadler-Block, 10 and 8, cheered and held up a handmade sign for their choice: a Chinese crested named Spam-O-Rama from Kernville in Kern County.
"He has goo in his eye and he only has hair on his head and tail," Jackson said.
Mugly won first place during the purebred round and again during the round against Creature, the first-place ugliest mutt.
Mugly again triumphed against two past winners, the 2002 ugliest named Rascal and the 2010 winner, Princess Abby. Rascal's caretaker, Dane Andrew of Sunnyvale, said he was thrilled that the contest has begun to draw international contenders.
"I think it adds energy to the contest," Andrew said. "But it would have been nice to win."
(You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)