ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) -- Cadbury has started the search for their new seasonal ‘bunny’ mascot and one Western North Carolina family is hoping their four-legged friend can make it to the top.

For the past few years, the company has held tryouts for animals that represent many different facets of human and animal life. Last year's ‘spokesbunny’ was a therapy dog from Ohio.

But who will wear this year's ears? Meet Howie: a Maltese show dog flown into North Carolina all the way from China who's going for the top spot.

Who will take this year's ears? Dog rescued from puppy mill now a Cadbury Bunny contender

But there’s much more to his story.

Bridget Bryant and her husband Scott added Howie to their family over a year ago, but before making it to his forever home, he had an unfortunate stop on his journey which had him put through a major, traumatic surgery.

“Unfortunately he was actually sold to a puppy mill where he was there for five years," Bridget said. "And while he was there, they pulled his teeth and cut his vocal cords so that he would be easier to mate with.”

Despite Howie's troubling past, the Bryants say they are immensely proud of his progress. It’s why they have entered him into the Cadbury contest.

This year’s theme is "rescue animals.”

“Cadbury, this year, not only has dogs, but they also had any basic rescue pets," Bridget said. "I think there’s even turtles on there, but it makes it such a cute competition.”

The semifinals voting will open up Monday morning, March 6.

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