ABU DHABI // With pink ribbons adorning her ears and her curly coat groomed just so, Candy, an eight-year-old standard poodle, was a serious contender for winning the Best in Show prize.
But she had stiff competition from more than 50 other pets that took part in Abu Dhabi's inaugural dog show, held yesterday afternoon on a football field in Zayed Sports City.
Some were so small they had to nestle in the crook of their owners' arms to escape the brisk wind, while others towered over the toddlers eager to pet them.
"This is absolutely fantastic; what a wonderful idea to organise something like this," said Lisa Watson, from the US.
Mrs Watson and her husband, Richard, had entered their four-year-old dog, Toby, in all three categories of the show: obedience, pedigree and beauty.
Toby, a flat-coated retriever with silky black hair, was one of only six dogs to be entered in the obedience category, which looks to see how well trained a pet is, and how attentive it is to its owner's commands.
"We wanted to give Toby a chance to have some fun, play in the outdoors and mostly just work his brain," said Mrs Watson. Toby's breed - a cross between a labrador and a newfoundland - loves to hunt, swim and stay active, but exercising the brain, to keep the dog alert and intelligent, is important, said Mr Watson.
Many of the dog owners were there because of municipality rules restricting dogs from accessing beaches and parks, meaning the chance for pets to enjoy the outdoors are slim, said Ahmed Alkiswani, 24.
Mr Alkiswani, from Jordan, was one of the organisers of the event. A creative director at an advertising firm, Mr Alkiswani wanted to illustrate how easy dogs are to love. It was a less formal affair than the international pageant held each year at the Abu Dhabi Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition to judge the Arabian saluki, a breed considered to be the world's oldest.
"This is meant to raise awareness, and teach the community about dogs and their merits, and give families and dog owners a chance to have a good time too, with their pets," he said.
And families came out in droves. Hundreds turned up yesterday, most of whom did not even own a dog. Quite a few, however, left with one.
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, one of the event's sponsors, was on hand with 18 strays, mostly mixed breeds in small and medium sizes, with signs around their collars that read: Adopt Me.
Steven Paler, 25, from the Philippines, was one of the first to adopt a dog; a white, female, mixed terrier.
"I'm a dog lover, and I couldn't resist helping a dog that needed a home," said Mr Paler, an ice skating coach.
"Besides, the dog will be a great present for my fiancee. I will let her do the naming," he said.
And although the dogs up for adoption did attract a lot of audience attention, nothing could compete with the dogs ready to be judged for their beauty and pedigree.
Candy was not the only one with accessories and a rhinestone-encrusted collar. Her "siblings", chihuahuas Barbie and Dolce and a saluki whippet called Twiggy, stood out among the diverse selection of dogs, pristine in their white coats and pink collars.
Elga Kassebaum, Candy's proud owner, had come all the way from Dubai to allow her four dogs to take part in the show.
"There aren't that many occasions to take our dogs out and let them have fun, and soon, with the weather getting hotter, it will be near impossible to have events like this," she said.
Amna al Kindi, 24, had brought her two dogs, both white Swiss shepherds, for exactly that reason. The Emirati had not enrolled her dogs to take part in the competition.
"I just wanted them to be out and get to spend time with other dogs and be social," she said.
And there were plenty of other dogs for them to socialise with. Pit bulls, bulldogs, labradors, spaniels, a schnauzer, a Japanese akita, a pug, a pekinese and a 10-week-old silky terrier puppy were but a fraction of the dog types jostling for a trophy or medal.
Dr Margit Muller, veterinarian and director of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, said holding a dog show in Abu Dhabi was important, if only to raise awareness about animal welfare.
"We really had a big demand to do this; there are so many dogs here and never any events for them," she said.
"Really, this was long over due."