Born to a Westminster champion, the triumphant dog in this year's D Magazine Survival of the Cutest tournament has winning in his genes. Nemo, an 8-year-old beagle, is named after the lovable Disney character who shares a similar birth defect. Nemo's crippled front paw, expressive faces, and wide range of vocalization make him one unforgettable animal.

A garden flag featuring a beagle flies in front of owner Melissa Boesch’s East Dallas home. There’s a beagle statuette holding a welcome sign in its mouth on the porch. As I near the front door, I hear dogs barking. The door opens, and two excited canines bark and jump to greet me. Framed photographs of Nemo, Penny (a retriever-Rottweiler mix), and Colby (an orange tabby cat) adorn the home’s interior. I spot a neatly stacked mountain of dog toys, two dog beds, and two cats curled up on the couch.

This house is full of superstars. Nemo’s enrollment in North Texas-based certified dog trainer and talent scout Traci Murdock’s “Hollywood Dog 101” class led to Boesch’s pets landing on an animal casting call list. Talent agent Paige Anderson, who works with Traci on shoots, represented Colby when he booked his first ad and now represents Nemo and Penny as well. Nemo and Penny were on the cover of Bark magazine in 2008, and Colby’s been featured in Morris the Cat’s (of the 9Lives food brand) calendar.

I take a seat next to Colby. Nemo instantly hops onto my lap and barks in my face. It’s as if this little dog wants to talk, too.
 
D: How did Nemo come into your life?

Melissa Boesch: My best friend Jeneva met a beagle breeder when she started to look for a new dog. They became very good friends, and consequently I became very good friends with her as well. Nemo’s daddy was a Westminster champion. He didn’t win the whole show, but he was the top beagle. He and Nemo’s mother had a litter about two years before Nemo’s, and out of that they produced a very high-ranking beagle. When they did this repeat breeding, they were hoping to get another good show dog, and they had Nemo and two females. Nemo came out with this little nub for his leg. About three weeks after he was born, I was sitting here watching the movie Finding Nemo for the first time. About halfway through it, I screamed out loud, “Oh my God! That puppy has to be named Nemo!” because [Nemo] the fish has the little fin. The more I thought about him, I thought I should just take him. When he was six weeks old, I brought him home.

D: How did you get the word out to round up votes for Nemo in our Survival of the Cutest contest?

MB: I tried to make an email to ask people to vote. I would get up extra early, send [the emails], [post] on my Facebook page, and share [the post] on my neighborhood association’s Facebook page. [I was] always asking people to share it with their friends, family, and contacts. A lot of people really got into it. They would email me to say, “I voted, I’ve shared this with 50 people, and I voted on all my devices.” I have a friend around the corner that sent it to someone she knows in Belgium, and she voted. I put a poster up at Lucky Dog Barkery. I put a poster in my car window. I don’t know if anybody voted from that, but I did it.

D: What are you planning on doing when the April issue comes out?

MB: A lot of people that don’t know him who voted for him [would] like to meet him. So we’ve talked about finding a dog-friendly patio at a restaurant or bar and putting the word out that he’ll be there.

D: What else has Nemo been featured in?

MB: Michaels did use him for a Halloween costume shoot. Last Halloween, there were about six or eight dogs they had dressed in different costumes. He was the bumblebee; he was up in a bunch of the stores. To me, Nemo should have his own cartoon show, his own lunchbox, his own comic book and coloring book. I mean, he should be a whole industry. But I haven’t been able to make that happen.

D: What are some of Nemo’s quirks?

MB: You know how dogs dig and make their bed before they lay down? He’ll do that, but he barks into the bed while he’s doing it. He lays on the back of the couch, like the cats. He’ll snuggle with anything. I’ll wake up sometimes in the night and Colby’s curled up with him. He snores so loud, but I love it. He snores and makes funny noises when he’s sleeping; really cute.

D: If Nemo were a person, what kind of person do you think he would be?

MB: I think of him as a little boy, like a little six-year-old boy. He’s kinda mischievous, he’s cute. I don’t want him to grow up.
 
D: What do you believe the future holds for you and Nemo?

MB: I’m still looking for that marketing contract with the lunchbox and the TV show!
   

See the 31 other canine competitors that Nemo bested to win our contest.