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Nothing fazes Martha.

And the lumbering 125-pound Neapolitan mastiff has been through a lot over the past six weeks.

It started with a midnight transfer from a Central Valley home where she wasn’t wanted to the backseat of a stranger’s car. She landed in the care of a Sebastopol dog rescue volunteer, then endured two surgeries to treat painful eye ailments.

Last week, just days away from joining a new adopted home, she walked onto the stage at the Sonoma Marin Fair with utter nonchalance, the folds of her silky gray coat swaying with each step, stealing hearts and the title of World’s Ugliest Dog.

Then came the cross-country flight for a televised appearance on the Today Show.

“She walked off the plane like a rock star,” said her caretaker, Shirley Zindler of Sebastopol. “New York City? No problem. Screaming crowds? No problem.”

Martha’s path to canine comfort and fame is one Zindler and others in a devoted network of animal advocates seek to replicate with each creature that ends up in their care. And that’s part of the goal of the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, a mainstay at the annual fair in Petaluma meant to showcase how lovable even the most aesthetically challenged and medically burdened canines can be, Zindler said.

Martha was up for sale on Craigslist for about $100 when the post was spotted six weeks ago by one of Zindler’s friends, Lucy Rockdale with Guardian’s Light Dog Rescue based in Tracy.

Rockdale could tell from the photos that Martha needed treatment for whatever ailment was turning the membranes around her eyes an irritated pink color, according to Zindler. She’d later learn the dog was going blind because of a painful condition called entropion in which the eyelid folds inward, allowing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea. She also had cherry eye, a condition caused when certain glands around the eye appear swollen and red.

Rockdale contacted the Craigslist seller and was told she could have Martha if she came to get her immediately, according to Zindler.

“She drove an hour in the dark to pick the dog up,” Zindler said.

Rockdale then called Zindler, an animal control officer with the Sonoma County shelter who, in her off hours, volunteers with Santa Rosa-based nonprofit Dogwood Animal Rescue Project as president of the organization’s board of directors. Zindler wrote a book about her work, “The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officer’s Passion to Make a Difference,” published in 2012.

Zindler said animal rescue resources are in high demand in the Central Valley, and she will often take animals from areas where there aren’t enough services for the number of animals in need.

Zindler brought Martha to Township Animal Hospital in Windsor where Dr. Paula Capurro performed two surgeries that prevented the dog’s right eye from going blind. Alas, she has no sight in her left eye. All told, it cost the rescue group about $800 in discounted medical expenses, Zindler said.

Meanwhile, Martha was acclimating just fine to the menagerie of animals at Zindler’s Sebastopol home.

Already gray at about three and a half years old, Martha’s coat is smooth and falls in genial folds around her face, belly and her massive paws. She is a dozy, gassy dog who likes a good many naps and tends to snore.

California wildfire history

Year | Number of fires // Acres burned

2018* NA // 1.3 million

2017* NA // 1.4 million

2016 7,349 // 560,815

2015 8,745 // 893,362

2014 7,865 // 555,044

2013 9,907 // 577,675

2012 7,950 // 869,599

2011 7,989 // 126,854

2010 6,554 // 109,529

2009 9,159 // 405,585

2008 4,108 // 1,375,781

2007 9,093 // 1,087,110

*Cal Fire estimates; 2018 to date

Source for all other years: National Interagency Fire Center


Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Martha was already set to be united with a new family in Penngrove this week when Zindler decided on a whim to enter her in the World’s Ugliest Dog contest one day before the deadline. The show, held last Friday, often showcases hairless breeds like Chinese cresteds which often have odd hair patches, lumps and jangled teeth that force their tongues to dangle haphazardly.

“These little scrawny, hairless dogs can’t win every year,” Zindler said with a laugh.

Naturally, Martha appeared to nap as the judges asked the crowd to vote by applause and help them narrow the top three down to a champion. Chosen as the crowd favorite, Martha didn’t bother much to celebrate, allowing Zindler to raise her paw in victory as she slumped on the stage.

On Wednesday, all that behind her, she walked along the surf at Dillon Beach and took in the sights of the Marin coast. It might have been her first beach experience — her first time sniffing seaweed, her first taste of sea water, the first time she felt her paws sinking into the soft sand.

She took it in stride, lumbering along with a pack of other dogs, including Breeze the Doberman, Maui the golden retriever, Widget the pit bull, Charlotte the poodle-Yorkie mix and a Jack Russell terrier named Otis. Teary eyed, Zindler remarked on her last afternoon with Martha. She is joining a Penngrove family with an 11-acre ranch and experience caring for big dog breeds.

“I’m used to it but I still get attached,” Zindler said. “I fall in love every single day.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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