For the winning subject of Wichita Paws' "beautiful dog" photo contest, life hasn't always been pretty.
Jennifer Ebner purchased Moya, a Rhodesian ridgeback, from a breeder in Oklahoma whom she found on Petfinder.com.
"As a kid I had a Rhodesian ridgeback-German shepherd cross, so I always wanted a Rhodesian ridgeback," Ebner said. "They're so expensive," and kind of hard to find.
Ebner knew she should have learned more about the breeder — which turned out to be a puppy mill — before buying the puppy, but "in her pictures she was just so cute. I really wanted the dog," she said.
"I knew the questions I was supposed to ask, and the answers I was supposed to get — go see the place, and see the parents, all that," Ebner said.
"But I was just in love with the picture of the dog. I didn't even care what (the breeder) said."
The breeder met Ebner halfway between her home and Ebner's, and Ebner took her 2-month-old puppy home.
From the beginning, Moya was scared of everything, Ebner said — of people, other animals and even grass.
"She didn't know what grass was," Ebner said. "She would only potty on cement. Even now she prefers cement."
Ebner soon learned that Moya's problems were more than emotional.
She and her husband at first thought the puppy had unusually big paws but soon figured out that she was walking on her ankles.
Their veterinarian consulted with experts at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine and then fitted Moya with casts on her two front legs. Poor nutrition had caused the problem, the veterinarian said.
The pup had to wear the casts for four months and stay in her crate most of the time, with her movements confined so her ankles could strengthen and heal.
"It broke my heart," Ebner said.
In time, Moya's legs got stronger, and she now walks and plays like a normal dog, Ebner said.
Moya's emotional troubles remained, however, and it took her about three years "to get to the point where she was not scared of people," Ebner said. But now Moya lets Ebner's 4-year-old daughter, Courtney, and other kids "climb all over her" and greets guests who come to their home in Conway Springs.
As a breed, Rhodesian ridgebacks are extremely friendly, intelligent and playful, Ebner said, and are "kind of quiet, not barky-type dogs."
They were originally bred in Africa "to defend the property against lions," she said, "so they are really fast and agile."
Ebner said she jokes that Moya is her "big, ferocious lion hunter, but she's scared of everything" — even the family's ducks.
"She's not what I had imagined a lion-hunting dog to be."
But she's sweet and loving, as well as beautiful — with her wheat-colored coat and a crest of hair along her spine "going the opposite direction," Ebner said.
In the winning photo, Moya had just finished eating, and Ebner tried to capture the wrinkles on her forehead.
"She looked so cute with all those wrinkles," she said.
Ebner said she had almost forgotten about the photo contest, and was surprised to see that she was a finalist when she logged on to WichitaPaws.com on Sunday.
"I was just about to vote for the merle Sheltie, then I went down and saw Moya's picture," she said.
Ebner said she called her mom, "who's a collie and Sheltie person, and told her to skip past the Shelties" and vote for Moya.
She also went on her Facebook and MySpace pages, urging friends there, and in a Rhodesian ridgeback club, to vote for her dog.
"I was doing a lot of begging," Ebner said.
For her photo, Ebner wins a $50 gift card to PetSmart.
Ronnie, a German shepherd owned by Greg Auerbach, came in second place, and Camille, a boxer belonging to Ashley Black, came in third.
Thanks to everyone who entered and voted.