At what point does something get so ugly that it's actually cute?
By the World's Ugliest Dog Contest's definition, Opie is ugly. His owner, Lori Pullen of Modesto, prefers to call him "googly."
By any definition, he looks more like a figment of Dr. Seuss' imagination than a real, living and breathing animal.
The male Chinese Crested pooch is at least 10 years old. When a rescue organization found him in January in Templeton, north of San Luis Obispo, a large, cancerous tumor protruded from his side. It had to be removed. He has several moles on his skin, which is devoid of hair beyond a sparse tuft extending from just above the eyes to the top of his head.
He wore a plastic veterinary collar to prevent him from licking or chewing other parts of his body when he was rescued. But how long had he worn it? His nails had grown to Freddie Krueger-like proportions.
Worse yet, Opie's lower jawbone had deteriorated to the point where only about half of it remains.
Cavities? He had a great checkup. The caveat: He has but one tooth.
Surfing an animal rescue Web site in April, Pullen came across Opie's photo and description and simply fell in love with him. She kept returning to the Web site and his photo and decided she wanted to adopt him.
"Despite my husband's misgivings, we both drove 3½ hours to Templeton," Pullen said. "When (Opie) jumped into my husband's arms, I knew I had made the right decision. He is the kindest, sweetest dog I've ever met."
She pureés his food in a blender, so despite his lower jaw problems, Opie eats well and has plenty of energy.
"We have had him only four weeks now, but every day is a adventure," Pullen said. "This week, he began to want to wrestle."
In mid-May he needed another surgery because he developed another cancerous tumor. But he's healing well, and just in time.
Pullen entered Opie in the 2009 World's Ugliest Dog Contest sponsored by the Sonoma-Marin County Fair. He's got plenty of company among his breed. Of the 13 dogs entered, four are Chinese Cresteds, and three of them were among the top four vote-getters through Monday afternoon in the online balloting.
The voting, which ends June 24, doesn't figure in the event's outcome.
"It's just for fun and to get people engaged in the contest," said Vicki DeArmon, a Sonoma-Marin County Fair marketing executive.
A Crested named Miss Ellie, from Tennessee, led with 1,575 votes. Opie was second with 1,414, some 80 votes ahead of a three-legged, mixed-breed dog named Arf.
Really. Arf. My imagination just isn't good enough to make this up.
The dogs and their owners will take the stage June 26 during the fair for the actual contest, and the winner will be chosen that day.
Despite his recent surgery, Pullen said Opie will attend.
First prize is $1,000 and a trophy, and there are other cash prizes as well. But Pullen's goal in entering him is to persuade more people to adopt animals like Opie, who calls the Pullens' two potbelly pigs and a pair of African Grey parrots his new siblings.
"Opie will (if he wins) donate his proceeds to the Stanislaus County Animal Shelter to help with the expenses of the horses, cows, potbellied pigs and fowl they bring in on a daily basis," Pullen said. "They rely on donations to feed them. Opie is a Modesto boy now and would like to help them."
Some of the money, she said, would go to the shelter in Templeton that saved his life.
Ugly? Cute? Googly?
It's in the eyes of the beholder and the judges.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To vote, click here . Voting ends June 24.