SANTA BARBARA — 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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.