The Westport Animal Shelter Advocates gave the town something to howl about Thursday afternoon when the group honored winners of the 4th annual Westport Top Dog contest.

Entered in the competition for the canine crown were 47 dogs from among the total of 2,733 registered in Westport. The recognition ceremony at Town Hall also was a fundraiser for WASA and the work it does to help homeless dogs in this area.

"It's just the Westminster of Westport," said Peter D'Amico, Westport's animal control officer.

"This is great," he said, petting the dogs who came to collect the top-five winning ribbons, as well as another half-dozen that were on hand in tail-wagging support for their peers. "It's a great event. It's attracted quite a few people. It's a great fundraiser as well."

WASA volunteers work with the dogs that are brought to Westport's no-kill shelter, helping not only pay for medical procedures, but offering care, training and general rehabilitation.

"Our focus is community outreach, to help the dogs that are homeless," said Susie Collins, a WASA founding member and animal trainer.

"The town has a certain budget, but it doesn't allow for everything," she said.

Collins and others hailed D'Amico, who opened the doors for a volunteer program at the town's animal shelter. There about 30 people who volunteer at the town's shelter.

"He's the jewel of Westport," WASA President Julie Loparo said of D'Amico. "He runs a compassionate, no-kill animal control facility. He started the volunteer program, and we're one of the few facilities that allow volunteers."

It was only coincidence, since every dog in town, regardless of history, can be entered in the Top Dog contest, but this year's winner -- Bosco -- was himself an abandoned dog adopted from the Westport shelter last summer.

"I really think this dog deserves it because he's so trusting," said owner Janet Paluch. "He never gets angry. He hardly ever barks."

The 7-year-old Golden Retriever easily adapted to life in the Paluch home; the couple's children have moved on to college and careers.

"It's been an amazing experience," said Alex Paluch. WASA "did a great job of getting him ready."

The couple said WASA takes great care in placing the shelter's dogs in the right homes, as well as helping with acclimation issues. "She senses which dogs work with which family," Janet Paluch said, referring to Loparo. "That has a lot to do with it. She's very discerning."

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who served as one of the judges for the contest, presented ribbons to all the winning dogs. Animal Control Assistant Kathleen Suchy and Town Clerk Patricia Strauss were the other judges.

"We judged a picture," Strauss said of the judging process, as well as the short essays submitted by the pet owners about what made their dogs special.

Strauss, who owns three dogs, said, "To me, they are active, they're always happy, and always bring joy and warmth into my life and my family."

Other Top Dog contest winners were:

- Second: Cheerio, a 12 ½-year-old Golden Retriever owned by Holly Jaffe,

- Third (tie): Uli, a 12-year-old English Staffordshire Bull Terrier owned by Brian and Moira Lynch, and Malcolm, a 12-year-old West Highland Terrier owned by Kathie and Scott Bennewitz

- Fourth: Kim, a 10-year-old Yellow Lab owned by Richard and Michelle Pactor