10 Country: The ugly dog judge - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: The ugly dog judge

Leesburg-- The Westminster Dog Show held recently in New York City showed the prettiest, best groomed dogs in the country, but what about regular pooches with little hope of winning any special recognition?

Don't give up hope just yet. Some dogs got a chance, with a real judge helping to decide which one would get an unusual title.

In Leesburg, in the second floor courtroom, a bailiff shouts a familiar statement. "All rise, please. This court will come to order."

Decades of court experience helps judges like John Wheaton make decisions quickly, "Just in traffic violations, we handle about four thousand a year. In 20 years what's that 80,000?" asks Judge Wheaton, as he presides over arraignment for traffic violations.

Those ticketed decide if they want to plead guilty or not guilty. If they feel innocent of the charges, they can choose a jury trial or have Judge Wheaton decide, commonly called a bench trial. Several violators pled guilty and Judge Wheaton took only a few minutes to pronounce a sentence. In one case, the Judge told a teenager, "The Court sentences you to serve 12 months probation and pay a $577 fine."

He dispenses fast-lane justice. With 80,000 plus decisions behind him, he has one more decision to make, an ugly one. In Sasser, he decided to help the Humane Society select the ugliest dog, a decision that seems like an open and shut case when you see a bulldog named Elvis. "I think Elvis is so ugly that he's cute," says owner Todd Kiefer.

The owner of another dog named Elvis wanted an unbiased opinion. "If he loses, I'll know he's not as ugly as people tell me," says Sandy Watson about her dog.

One owner questioned her dog's attractiveness. "Do you think he's ugly, ugly enough to win?" asks Pam Fletcher. The judges will answer all their questions.

Soon, it was time for the judges to look at each dog to assess its ugliness. Six owners entered their dogs for barking rights as the ugliest dog in the show. Some dogs didn't have a prayer of winning. Pebbles' painted toe nails hurt her chances. "Yeah. How 'bout that," says Judge Wheaton, when he noticed the red toe nails.

The owner carried one contestant named King in his arms, and then came Elvis, the odds-on favorite. And, the other Elvis, the one where the owner's family said the dog was ugly. "Got to look at two of them again," says Judge Wheaton after seeing all six dogs.

The judges became deadlocked when deciding between King and Elvis, the bulldog. "We got a man here with an ugly dog," says the Judge. You could say two men had ugly dogs.

In the end, King won the title, and Sandy Watson knew her dog wasn't ugly after all, and the judge knew he helped make the right decision. "I don't believe there will be an appeal anywhere," says Judge Wheaton.

A satisfied judge with a record of making more than 80,000 decisions, now with one ugly dog case to add to his record. King the dog came out pretty well, winning, among other things, bags of dog food, a day at the doggie spa and the title of the ugliest dog at the show.

posted by dave.miller@walb.com