Westport sure went to the dogs Thursday, and the fans of man's best friend couldn't have been happier as the town's "Top Dog" was crowned for a fifth year.
The annual contest, sponsored by Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, culminated with four finalists converging on Town Hall for the crowning moment.
And the honor went to Cali, a yellow lab mix that had been rescued from a California shelter.
"I'm really excited," said one of Cali's adopters, 10-year-old Brandon Malin. "I never knew that this would happen.
"I really wasn't expecting first prize," he added.
But thanks in large part to the contest essay written by Brandon's sister, Madison, 14, the story of Cali's vital role in their family touched the heart of the judges.
"She's brought a lot of joy to us," said mother Valerie Malin, struggling to keep the buoyant Cali from jumping off her leash. "She's extremely happy and she's introduced us to all kinds of neighbors.
"I think it's great," Cindy Schneider, owner of second-place finisher Lurch, an enormous Dogue de Bordeaux.
She noted the great volunteer work done by WASA, which sponsors the annual event as a fundraiser. The nonprofit provides assistance to homeless dogs throughout Fairfield County, but its primary focus is on the dogs at the "no kill" Westport Animal Control shelter on Elaine Road.
"It's just a chance for all the Westportonians to get together and celebrate dogs," said Julie Loparo, the WASA president.
"We have about five dogs at the shelter right now, and we have three fosters," she said, noting that the Top Dog event is aimed to help raise awareness of how beneficial dog adoptions can be.
"This is one of the things that made me want to be first selectman," said First Selectman Jim Marpe, who brought his 8-year-old Burmese mountain dog, Madison, along for the event.
He said that reading essays submitted for the 60 different entries in the contest was moving. "Many of them brought tears to my eyes," he said.
The stories included the heart-warming tale of Suzy, the white shepherd mix that finished fourth, and how she was permanently united with her caregiver Paul Tolentino after her initial adoption didn't work out.
In third place was Gabby, a terrier mix that, with the help of owner Susan Silver, wrote her own contest essay about narrowly avoiding her demise at a kill shelter.
"I'm assuming since I'm so adorable, they couldn't help saving me," Gabby relates in the essay.
A photo of Cali will be posted in Town Hall's Dog Hall of Fame, where portraits of previous year's Top Dog winners are hung. The finalists also were presented ribbons, along with baskets of dog-friendly goodies.
"WASA's a great organization," said Valerie Malin. "We're happy to help out WASA any way we can."