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‘Ugliest’ Dog Is a Thing of Beauty to His Owner

Times Staff Writer

Some may call it a tale of beauty and the beast. But Sam, a 14-year-old pedigreed Chinese crested, and a three-time champ in the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, is the dog of Susie Lockheed’s dreams.

Lockheed, 53, enjoys massaging Sam’s fleshy, thin, potato-chip ears and running her fingers through the small patches of white hair on his head.

She likes kissing Sam’s hairless frame, littered with blackheads, brown warts and moles. Even his hindquarters have a large hernia lump.

Then there’s his right eye, left a reddish-purple from cataracts, which stands out from the other, which is a milky white.

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“I’ve never had a dog this much in love with me,” Lockheed said. “I really baby Sam, and kiss him a lot. He’s a toad [that’s] going to turn into a prince.”

Sam is one of four hairless dogs that love to groggily lounge on the couch in Lockheed’s Santa Barbara home, where she operates a beauty salon.

Lockheed grew up in Palos Verdes Estates with household pets and suffered from allergies that would worsen when she was near furry dogs.

She said her life changed when a friend gave her TatorTot, a Chinese crested and Chihuahua mix, for her 40th birthday. “I never had a dog I could cuddle with before,” she said.

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Later, Lockheed would adopt dogs Tinkerbelle and Sam and would buy PixieNoodle, all hairless dogs. Her friends approve the “cuteness” factor of the other dogs. Sam is a different story.

Though Lockheed had wanted her other dogs, she had to be persuaded to take in the world’s ugliest dog. He had already been rejected by an adoption agency, which deemed him too homely for any home they knew. Sam’s former owner, who was moving to a place where dogs weren’t allowed, was desperate, Lockheed said.

“He didn’t look so good then, but he’s looking worse now,” Lockheed said, adding that in recent years Sam has gone blind and suffered illness. “There’s something quite noble about Sam. Even though he’s unattractive, he expects to be treated like royalty.”

A year after Lockheed took in the dog without a home, she suffered a relapse of thyroid cancer, with which she was first diagnosed as a teenager.

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After drinking a radioactive iodine treatment, Lockheed had to stay at home for five days, and her entire room had to be covered in plastic -- even the telephone. Friends had to leave food by her door because of the radiation. But she wasn’t alone; Lockheed was able to keep one dog with her, and she picked Sam.

The two enjoyed lounging and watching television. Sam never left her except to visit the side yard through his doggy door. The two have been inseparable ever since. Now Sam cries when Lockheed isn’t around.

“He made a grave situation really fun. I think dogs are a gift from God. They don’t care if you’re having a bad hair day,” Lockheed said.

But as the only male dog in the household, Sam was sometimes treated as an outcast by the other dogs, who were jealous of the attention Lockheed lavished on him. He was even blocked from the couch by the females.

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Then in 2002, Lockheed saw a Jay Leno show featuring the world’s ugliest dog from the Sonoma-Marin Fair, which has held the contest since 1989. She knew Sam would be a natural.

To prepare, she skipped Sam’s usual treatment with mild lactic acid lotion, which clears off dead skin cells, for a few days and let his nails grow out.

“You don’t practice, and you certainly don’t groom,” Lockheed said. “It’s the opposite of preparing for Westminster,” the big New York dog show.

Sam won, and has taken the fair’s title every year since, including last month. Lockheed plans to enter Sam in a similar contest in March in Del Mar.

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Some of her closest friends remain perplexed about the love affair: the world’s ugliest dog hanging out with the daughter of a New York beauty queen. Lockheed, who performs facials, waxing and lash tints in her home salon, is perky. Sam is grouchy.

Her good friend Rebecca Player, 53, refuses to touch Sam’s dangling, loose flesh.

“He’s just too disgusting,” Player said, adding that Lockheed once brought Sam into her workplace and everyone gasped. No one wanted to pet him.

“She’s beautiful, carrying this dreadful-looking animal,” Player lamented. “You really do see people grimace when he walks by. Poor guy.”

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Sometimes having an ugly dog has its pitfalls. Player said Lockheed was trying to console a guy she was dating by telling him, “You’re a very attractive man.” He responded, “Why should I listen to you? You tell Sam he’s beautiful.”

Lockheed spends $1,000 a year on her dogs, buying them bottled water, always keeping the heat at 70 degrees or above, fixing home-cooked meals for them, and letting them sleep with her under the sheets and her goose down blanket.

Lockheed closely watches Sam, who must take a number of pills each day to combat heart problems and kidney disease. To coax him to eat his medicine, Lockheed slips it into lean buffalo meat, tasty cheese balls, French toast or flan.

But that treatment is not extended when Lockheed spends the night at her fiance’s ranch, which she does every weekend. Mark Tautrim, who never allowed his dogs indoors before, bans the hairless pack to the back bedroom.

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But at some point during the night, Sam will invariably demand Lockheed’s attention, letting out a shrill cry -- “straight out of a horror movie,” Tautrim said. Lockheed races to Sam’s rescue and spends the rest of the night with her dogs.

“We say our goodnights and [then] I ban her to the back bedroom,” Tautrim said.

Unfortunately, luck in love hasn’t extended to Sam. He’s still chasing after the yellow Lab next door, Mahia, after an on-and-off, three-year relationship.

“It’s cute,” said Mary Judge, Mahia’s owner. However, Judge said there would be “no babies” with her dog and Sam.

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Sam’s health is so frail these days that Lockheed never leaves his side and refuses to take trips abroad. She turned down an invitation to her niece’s wedding in Capri this October because she thought Sam wouldn’t survive the flight to Italy.

“I think it’s amazing how she can care for such a hideous dog,” said Lockheed’s childhood friend Susie Weller, adding that the dogs “are kind of like her children.”

Weller recalled how Lockheed would squeeze out Sam’s blackheads, and how every time, Sam would growl.

Lockheed said her customers have all grown accustomed to Sam’s presence, some even requesting that Sam sleep on their laps. At Christmastime, Sam receives more presents from clients than she does.

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A former actress who once tried to launch her career in Los Angeles, Lockheed says she is now a proud canine stage mom. She regularly blogs on her website, Sam ... “World’s Ugliest Dog,” which has drawn more than 2 million hits since its creation in July. The site sells Sam magnets and T-shirts. Reporters have called from as far away as Japan and Holland to hear his famous growl.

Lockheed brags that Sam has received far more fame than she ever had while starring in community musicals. She sees him paraphrasing the resonating line of Norma Desmond, the fading silent-screen actress in the movie “Sunset Boulevard,” whose beauty and youth have long disappeared.

But Sam really might be ready for his close-up. The more he ages, the uglier he becomes and the more successful he becomes. Lockheed hopes she can extend his success to Hollywood. She plans to hire an agent for Sam to help him appear in films and commercials.

But she’s up against time.

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“I worry about [Sam’s health] terribly,” Lockheed said, adding that she would be surprised if Sam was alive for the next ugly dog contest.

“I just feel he’s like on borrowed time, and every day is just a blessing. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, not just for luck, but because I love him so much.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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The ugly facts

Susie Lockheed met her fiance, Mark Tautrim, in February 2004 after he saw a photograph of Lockheed and Sam posted on Match.com and e-mailed her, asking “What is that?”

* Sam’s name is derived from the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. “Samson’s strength is in his hair,” Lockheed said. “We know how much strength Sam has in his hair,” she joked. Sam is a Chinese crested hairless.

* Lockheed graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in theater. She went on to star in a number of community theater musicals including “The Wizard of Oz” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

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* Sam’s website is:

www.samugliestdog.com.


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