Esther's foster mom, Kat Minakakis, stood about 10 feet away behind a table, volunteering with Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia's fifth annual Super Adoption Day, one of the nation's largest adoption events.
She watched Esther's every move, her hopes rising and falling with the dog's every interaction with a stranger on this sunny morning at Piazza at Schmidts in Northern Liberties.
For the past year, Esther has lived with Minakakis, her husband, Pete DeStefano, and their daughter, Eva, in their East Falls home. And it's been their responsibility to promote the dog on her "Esther, the Beauty Queen" Facebook page and to cart her off to adoption events like this one to look for her "forever family."
Esther, as usual, was really good at reeling in the browsers. She rubbed against people like a 60-pound cat, and when they got down to her level, face-to-snout, there was a lot of kissing and people had an urge to smush her face in their hands. Almost everyone used the same word - "sweet" - to describe her, but they all moved on, off to pet more dogs looking to find permanent homes.
"It's a real mystery," Minakakis said, after the woman and her son walked on. "She's the perfect dog."
Esther, who's about 7 years old, came to Minakakis from the City of Elderly Love Rescue, an organization with the difficult task of finding homes for older dogs with stiff joints, graying muzzles and maybe a cloudy eye or two.
The Piazza featured stiff competition, too: specific rescue groups for greyhounds, bulldogs, a kitten or two, dozens of other stocky pit bulls with equally wiggly behinds, and at least one Chihuahua with two teeth.
"He really just needs someone to love him," said NBC10 meteorologist Sheena Parveen, holding the Chihuahua on the stage at the Piazza.
When it comes to soaking up attention, few dogs, no matter how sweet, can compete with a pen full of clumsy puppies.
"Puppies are an unfair advantage, aren't they?" asked Samantha Jones, president of the No-Kill group.
According to the group, about 10,000 cats, dogs and small animals are euthanized each year in Philly because of overpopulation. The vast majority are strays, particularly cats, but many also are turned in by owners unable to care for them for a variety of reasons.
Esther started life with the name "Star," in a happy home in Frankford, Jones said, but was turned over to Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia's shelter four years ago when her owner had a stroke and could no longer care for her. She was adopted quickly - but was quickly turned back because she was too big. She was adopted again, and again was returned - because of landlord issues - and she was taken in by Minakakis in April 2013.
Last Thursday night, at Minakakis' house, Esther lay quietly on her elevated bed, looking up occasionally as Eva - who renamed her - twirled through the living room with a bedsheet as a cape. Another dog, Jeremy, sat in a dog crate in the corner. Four cats - Marigold, Hank, Isabella and Julip - were in the basement.
Esther and cats don't exactly mix, which gives Minakakis an extra push to find her a home. If Esther got along with the cats, they probably would keep her.
"It's a little upsetting sometimes," Minakakis said in her living room. "I just hope she could be settled somewhere. She deserves a good home."
Esther had secret operatives in the crowd at the Piazza yesterday, dropping helpful hints about how well-trained she is, how much easier she'd be in the house than some "lunatic puppy."
"She's a great dog. She's been trained very well," Minakakis's neighbor Arlene Fisk, 59, told an older couple eyeing her.
They asked Esther's age, and mentioned how sweet she is, and then they moved on.
Volunteers kept walking Esther around the Piazza for the rest of the afternoon, and someone reportedly inquired about her at the booth for the City of Elderly Love while she was gone.
It was about the 10th such event to which Minakakis and her family have taken Esther. They still hope that one bittersweet day they'll drive back home without her.
Yesterday, four dogs and two cats had been adopted by 3 p.m. But Esther returned to her temporary home in East Falls, her butt finally at rest after a long day, and she was sound asleep by 5 p.m.
For more information about Esther, visit cityofelderlylove.org and for more information about animal adoptions, visit phillynokill.org.
On Twitter: @JasonNark