"What we want is dogs who are naturally ugly," said Vicki DeArmon, producer of World's Ugliest Dog, "dogs who are so homely they're cute."
Meet Creature • Enter West Jordan's own little Creature, a 10-year-old Mexican hairless who belongs to Taylor and Kelli Stokes.
The couple rescued Creature about a year ago when they saw her featured on a Fox 13 "Best Friend" newscast.
"We walked up to her cage, and there's actually a person standing there and he goes, 'Is that a dog? That's the ugliest thing I've ever seen,' " Kelli said. "And I'm like, 'That's my dog. You're coming home with me.' "
They weren't planning on getting another dog, but Creature's big, black eyes and odd assortment of multicolored hair convinced them otherwise.
Creature has fine, blond almost human-like hair on her head, tail, and paws, but the rest of her is naturally hairless except for the little sprigs of white that Taylor calls her "old lady back hair."
Because of her hairless nature, Creature Dog Stokes requires some special care: sunscreen in the summer, sweaters in the winter and baby shampoo baths with lotion follow-ups.
The Stokes said they had no clue how to care for Creature, and their veterinarians didn't either. They had to call a Mexican hairless rescue shelter in Canada to discover the special instructions.
Creature also has tusk-like teeth that stick out of her mouth from her underbite, making it seem she's always baring her teeth at people but it's just an illusion.
"She's nothing but sweet," Taylor said.
The couple's favorite thing about Creature is her temperament. They say she's great with other dogs, cats and even kids. "She's literally good with everybody, anybody," Taylor said.
They also said Creature is the center of attention everywhere they go. Whenever they take Creature out, they know they'll need to take extra time because people often stop them to meet and ask questions about her.
"She's a spoiled dog," Taylor Stokes said. "She gets so much love, and she's a part of our family."
The competition • Many of the dogs that compete in the World's Ugliest Dog Contest have similar stories. DeArmon calls the ugly competitors "little diva dogs."
Ghada Marta, the owner of competitor Handsome Hector, said her dog lives like royalty. "Hector lives a champagne life on a beer budget," Marta said.
And Dane Andrew, owner of Rascal the fourth in a dynasty of World's Ugliest Dog champions refuses to believe his dog is ugly at all.
"I think he's the most handsome dog ever," Andrew said of the bug-eyed pup whose tongue permanently sticks out.
The World's Ugliest Dog competition consists of four rounds, including a health check on all of the competitors.
"We're not looking for dogs who are sick or harmed or anything like that," DeArmon said. The judges are looking for healthy dogs that were born "aesthetically challenged."
That is one of the reasons the Stokes believe Creature has a chance to win. "She's what she is," Taylor said. "We haven't changed anything about her."
Creature's unique breed and size also play in her favor. Previous winners are often smaller-sized dogs, but Creature weighs in at just more than 40 pounds. "I think that's going to give her an edge because she's different from everybody else," Taylor said.
Creature has 400 votes on the World's Ugliest Dog's online voting gallery, where's she's hundreds of votes ahead of all but one of the competitors.
Marta called Creature "heinous" and Andrew said she has an interesting look. "We're excited Creature is coming," DeArmon said.
Getting serious • Many of the competitors want to win not only for the fame and fortune, but also for a chance to give back to the animal world.
The Stokes own a small private animal rescue called RSQ DOGS, which they run out of their home through Internet networking and word-of-mouth advertising. They find rescued animals and bring them to owners, and encourage people not to buy animals from breeders or pet stores.
"If there's a specific type of dog that you want, I can find it for you," Kelli said.
The Stokes hope participating in the contest will open doors not just for their own rescue, but for rescue efforts overall. They want to promote spaying and neutering animals, as well as rescuing and adopting pets from shelters.
"The shelters are so full, and they all euthanize like crazy. It's just such a big issue," Kelli said.
In 2011, total intake for Utah shelters and rescue groups combined was more than 75,000, and almost 30,000 animals were euthanized, according to Best Friends Animal Society.
Taylor says the project is about saving lives.
"It's just sad to see the overpopulation and dogs being put down for no reason," he said.
Creature has become the mascot for RSQ DOGS, and every conversation about her turns into a conversation about animal rescue.
"We're all about rescue and you know she's a rescue," Taylor said. "She's a great dog and she just happens to have a lot of characteristics to her that people call ugly."
Competing for the Title of World's Ugliest Dog
The four rounds of the contest:
Ugly Pedigree Competition >> yields Ugly Pedigree Winner
Ugly Mutt Competition >>> names Ugly Mutt Winner
Ugly Pedigree winner vs. Ugly Mutt winner >> becomes Ugly Dog of the Year 2012 ($500 prize)
Ugly Dog of the Year vs. Ring of Champions (previous winners of World's Ugliest Dog) >>> World's Ugliest Dog ($1000 prize)
Who do YOU think is the ugliest?
Is it the wild-haired Icky from California? How about Mugly who's coming all the way from the UK? What about Utah's very own Creature? See the World's Ugliest Dogs' online gallery and vote for your favorite at http://www.sonoma-marinfair.org/ugly-dog-gallery.