Westminster a-twitter: Tech tricks at old dog show

Maddox the Chow Chow backstage during the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 14, 2011.
Maddox the Chow Chow backstage during the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 14, 2011. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Sitting high up in section 118, Linda Melvin kept her eyes fixed on the Gordon setters competing on the floor at Madison Square Garden. A seat away, her daughter fixated on her cell phone.

Krista Piller was busy posting on Facebook: "Wants a big dog to win the WKC dog show this year."

"I'll being putting up more, too," Piller said.

From the stands, to the green-carpeted rings to backstage, people were a-twitter Tuesday - iPads, Blackberries, Droids and then some at an event that started in 1877. Signs of social media were everywhere at the Westminster Kennel Club show.

Proving, in fact, that it is indeed possible to teach an old dog show new tech tricks.

"It is now uploaded!" exclaimed Lorraine Shore of Sequim, Wash.

In town with a pair of German pinschers, her peeps worldwide could see on YouTube how her favorite pooches fared.

"From Germany to Australia to California, people are waiting for my postings," she said. "People who have never been here, now they've experienced Westminster."

Judge Paolo Dondina of Italy was set to pick the best in show shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday. The top sporting, working and terriers will be chosen earlier in the evening.

Already in the best-of-seven ring are a bearded collie, a Pekingese, a Chinese shar-pei and a Scottish deerhound, all group winners Monday night.

Among the owners showing early Tuesday: Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, an Army surgeon who was shot down from a helicopter during the Persian Gulf War and briefly held as a prisoner of war. She was at the Garden showing a Gordon setter.

Cornum was clear on which was more difficult, ascending in the show ring or in the military.

"No question, it is dogs," she said.

David Frei, now in his 22nd year of hosting the Westminster telecast, hoped to have time to answer on air questions that dog fans submitted through Twitter and Facebook.

Some were basic: Why has a golden retriever never won? Why do handlers hold treats for dogs in their mouths?

Others, a little more specific: "My standard poodle is a reading therapy dog and I was wondering why he can't help me in math? I know that he notices if he doesn't get the same amount of dog biscuits as the other dogs."

"You're watching TV and working on your laptop and we want to be interactive with what's going on live," Frei said.

Westminster has nearly 49,000 friends on Facebook, and Susi Szeremy of the kennel club's social media team said 4,000 more joined during Monday night's telecast. There are about 2,400 followers Tweeting along - litters of twitters.

Many dog fanciers follow along on Westminster's website. Piller and her mom drove up from near Annapolis, Md., to see the show for the first time and tracked the results from the road on Facebook.

Ken Roux of Dixon, Ill., made it easy for anyone to keep track of his Boston terrier at the 135th Westminster event. Hoss won a best of breed award Monday.

Roux put a tag with a QR code, a sophisticated set of small squares randomly appearing in a larger square, on top of his dog's crate. The pattern is more than an inch square, and anyone pointing a smartphone at the pattern is automatically taken to Hoss' website.

Brook Berth, an assistant to Hoss' handler, said she'd heard only one other dog at Westminster had the QR tag, which stands for "quick response." The new technology allows people to instantly access the dog's history and contacts.

"I noticed a lot of people taking pictures," Berth said. "It's just so convenient. You don't have to worry about people writing down information or passing out cards. They have it all right away."

The fancy bar codes could become Westminster's trendy bark codes.

"This is the test area," Berth said. "So far, it seems to be a big hit."

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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