The contenders included Corona, an English bulldog known for her extreme snoring, and Chulis, a prissy poodle from Guadalajara who loves to watch King Kong movies.
There was also Tripod, a brown-eyed mutt rescued from the streets of Compton, where he scavenged on three legs.
One by one, the canines lined up at Resurrection Parish in Boyle Heights on Saturday for the community's first-ever dog show: pit bulls from Pico Rivera, Chihuahuas from Downey and boxers from Covina, all ready to compete for a trophy and neighborhood bragging rights.
Most would never qualify for the Westminster Kennel Club. But then again, this show had no intention of following official rules. The judges included a 13-year-old boy, and the event kicked off with a priest's blessing.
"We ask that you send your angels upon these dogs to protect them," said Msgr. John Moretta before sprinkling each one with holy water. "Some need more blessings than others."
Proceeds from the $3 entry fee went to help the church's school. But beyond raising funds, the show was a way to pay tribute to the Eastside's furriest residents, particularly those saved from shelters and the streets.
"A lot of times these dogs get rescued and you don't hear their stories," said Michael Aldapa, the event's organizer. "This is our chance to honor them and show we've made them a part of our families."
The Montebello resident planned the event with help from uncles, aunts and cousins. Until Saturday, he wasn't sure what to expect or if he would be rained out. He set up a stage, hung balloons and listed the contest categories: Cutest Dog, Ugliest Dog, Best Owner-Dog Look-Alike, Best Trick, Best Costume and Best in Show.
By Saturday afternoon, the sun was shining and the church's parking lot was packed with nearly 50 dogs. Unlike at professional shows, none were tucked away in cages. Here, the breeds mingled freely. Those with short fuses were kept on tight leashes. Others sniffed about, with little sense that their first shot at stardom was only minutes away.
Rick Lopez of East Los Angeles gave his 7-month-old pit bull, Champ, a warm bath and a pep talk before the big moment. The massive 70-pound brindle quietly watched his competition from a distance.
"We're going to see how things go here," said Lopez, who hoped to take home the trophy for Best Owner-Dog Look-Alike. "And then we're going to attempt to enter more dog shows, bigger ones."
Other owners readied their pets by tiring them out with a long walk or letting them nap all morning.
"If she's tired, she'll get cranky," said Ruben Arroyo, owner of Spike, a 4-year-old English bulldog from Cudahy.
The show kicked off as Shaggy's "Who Let the Dogs Out" blared over the sound system. Up on the stage, five judges — three church members, a program director from the local YMCA and Aldapa's teenage son, Michael — prepared to score the canines on a scale of one to five.
Having never judged a dog show before, and knowing next to nothing about official criteria — coat, teeth, gait — they said they would follow their instincts.
"I'm going to see how they listen and behave with their owner," said one.
"I want to know how much personality they have," said another.
Up first in the Cutest Dog category was Tripod. He raced around a circle, undeterred by his missing leg, while the audience clapped and owner Rosa Bautista of Van Nuys cheered him along.
"Come on, Tripod, come on.…"
Behind him stretched a line of almost 40 dogs.
Terriers, Labradors, German shepherds and one giant Great Dane named Delilah pranced before the audience, while a few took advantage of the spotlight to mark their turf. One teacup Yorkie refused to walk at all, making her way through the showing area in her owner's arms.
Ultimately, the award for Cutest Dog went to a fuzzy little poodle named Puffy. She belonged to a seventh-grader from Boyle Heights who's still teaching the 5-month-old not to destroy her younger sister's Barbie dolls.
Standing in line for the Best Tricks category, Bautista and Tripod brushed off defeat and prepared for their next chance at a trophy.
They planned to show off Tripod's greatest talent.
"We're going to howl for the judges, and this time we're going to kick butt," Bautista said.
And that they did. Tripod not only won Best Trick but also took home the biggest prize: Best in Show.