Molly Horgan of Falmouth was scrolling through photos of dogs available for adoption when she saw a tiny pup with bug eyes, raggedy ears and a tongue that is always hanging out.

“I saw this tiny little dog who didn’t have any teeth or a lower jaw,” she said. “It was love at first sight. I knew I had to have him.”

A week later on Feb. 14, 2017, the tan and white chihuahua – since named Tostito Kevin – arrived in Maine and settled immediately into the hearts of Horgan and her roommate, Sami Gardner. Now Tostito is a finalist in the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest and Horgan and Gardner have launched an online fundraising campaign in hopes of traveling to California later this month for the big event.

Tostito is competing in the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest later this month. Photo Courtesy of Molly Horgan

The contest isn’t poking fun at dogs like Tostito, but instead celebrates canines with unique looks to show that all dogs are deserving of a loving home. The contest has been held for 28 years and frequently features dogs like Tostito that have been rescued from shelters and puppy mills.

Tostito, a senior dog, is certainly unique-looking. He has big bug eyes, no teeth or lower jaw, and ears with jagged edges. He has a funny way of walking and his tongue always hangs from his mouth. Sometimes people gasp when they see him.

“He’s kind of hard to describe,” Gardner said. “He’s a little like an alien.”

“I always say he looks like a mix of a baby deer and chipmunk,” Horgan added.

Horgan, who runs a dog walking and pet sitting business, doesn’t know much about her dog’s background. He was born in a puppy mill in Tennessee, where he was apparently neglected to the point that his rotted teeth and lower jaw had to be removed. Without teeth, it’s hard to tell how old he is, but Horgan’s best guess is around 13.

Tostito Kevin was rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee. Photo Courtesy of Molly Horgan

“When we first got him, he was very skinny. He basically had never been talked to,” Gardner said. “It was clear he hadn’t come from a loving home.”

When he first moved to Maine, Tostito didn’t bark much and shied away from most people. But it wasn’t long before he found his confidence – and his bark – and is now a distinctly sassy pup who makes it clear when he wants something. His favorite food is melted brie, a preference his people discovered shortly after his adoption when they were eating baked brie with cranberries.

“He could not stop staring at it and shaking,” Gardner said. “We gave him a little piece and he lost his mind. He was making the strangest noises.”

Despite his lack of teeth, Tostito is fond of his regular meals: wet food mixed with water and a little pumpkin puree. He’s also a fan of other dogs, often comforting others when they’re anxious or upset. He can be a little slow to warm up to people, but once he does, he showers them with love, Horgan said.

After finding out last week that Tostito had been accepted into the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, Horgan and Gardner launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to fly out to California for the event. In two days, they raised half of the $1,000 goal they set to pay for the trip.

Horgan thinks Tostito will be excited to see California and other dogs as unique as himself. And regardless of whether he wins the title, Horgan and Gardner know they hit the jackpot when Tostito came home to them.

“We watched this little creature turn into a dog and it was so rewarding and fulfilling. He’s thriving and living his best life,” Gardner said. “He’s so happy and he’s so loved. It’s sad some people can’t get past a physical deformity to see his great personality underneath.”

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