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Chris Fordney: Readers get break with odd animals

Editor's note: Chris Fordney was away last week. This column first appeared Oct. 16, 2006.

Sometimes it's good for editors at newspapers, even those who only work part time on the copy and design desks, to tell readers a little about how The Daily Miracle is put together and to explain our decisions about the selection and placement of stories and photographs.

In that spirit I would like to disclose that I'm the editor responsible for the series of bizarre animal photos that have run in this newspaper over the past couple of years.

Yes, I brought you the World's Ugliest Dog, the two-headed snake, the four-legged chicken and attempted to bring you the 65-pound catfish.

In the case, of Sam, we're not just talking homely here. We're talking about an animal so arrestingly hideous, with tattered ears, a single tuft of whitish hair sprouting vertically from a bald head, a wart-encrusted nose, opaquely pale, alien-like eyes, and a few crooked teeth that suggested several encounters with car bumpers, that he just begged to be run three columns wide, which is exactly how I ran him.

That this was a correct news judgment was confirmed in the weeks and months that followed, as Sam was picked up by television and other media, developed a solid fan base, appeared on the Carson Daly Show and even got his own Web site. He made media appearances as far away as Japan and New Zealand, stayed in top hotels and found himself on talk shows with such celebrities as Donald Trump.

As his fame grew, Sam's story began to emerge. He was a purebred Chinese crested hairless, but also a stray whose owner, Susie Lockheed, rescued him from a shelter despite the feeling of staff that he was "unadoptable," according to Sam's Web site. At first, due to Sam's "Cujo-like" behavior, all that Lockheed could do was put food and water into his cage and run.

So disruptive was Sam's appearance and demeanor that Lockheed's boyfriend broke up with her. She eventually won the dog's trust, proving "there can be love, affection and respect for even the seemingly unattractive souls of this world," she was quoted as saying.

He allowed her to pamper him with satin cushions and other luxurious surfaces and she was even able to hug and kiss him.

For three years Sam was crowned the Ugliest Dog in the World at the Sonoma-Marin County Fair in California. But his health began to fail and he died before this year's fair, so it can be said that he was undefeated.

"He touched people in many ways, from uncontrollable laughter to being a little frightened," Lockheed said upon Sam's demise.

This year's winner, another Chinese crested named Archie, doesn't even come close to Sam's startling unsightliness.

Similarly, I have been unable to find another animal photo with Sam's impact despite routine and exhaustive searches of the Associated Press photo wire.

Some readers might think that this is a frivolous thing to try and get into a serious newspaper, but I feel that the occasional bizarre animal can provide a welcome respite from the endless grind of war, terrorism and North Korean leaders having a permanent bad hair day.

So I'll remain vigilant for a bizarre animal photo that can live up to the standard set by Sam, the World's Ugliest Dog.

* Contact Chris Fordney at <a href="mailto:cfordney@nvdaily.com">cfordney@nvdaily.com</a>

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