We are living in a world we haven’t known before. Today, six months into the pandemic, the dog world is cautiously testing the waters, and we have a few dog shows again. Despite the devastation this pandemic has wrought, there may be a few bright spots.
Hats off to those clubs that have held dog shows. It is apparent that with a lot of careful planning, watchful club members and AKC field reps to ensure COVID rules are followed, the shows themselves can be safe. Exhibitors are coping with the new entry restrictions, and understandably bitching and moaning about limited entries.
In order to observe necessary social distancing, few indoor facilities are large enough to accommodate unlimited entries. It is not an easy feat for clubs to make rings larger, add an exit as well as the customary entrance, limit the role of the ring steward, and expect the exhibitor to pick up the correct ribbon. The benefit is that entries are up. With fewer shows the top dogs are colliding, so the competition is keen – all of which is good for our sport.
One of the casualties of this era may be that some clubs do not survive. The vast majority of show committees are made up of people my age; shockingly, I learned early on I was one of those in the “vulnerable” category. The morning COVID-19 was declared a pandemic I had mild vertigo, so I called my doctor’s office, only to be greeted by – and I’ll never forget these words – “Due to your age we do not have an appointment for you.”
What the hell? In our club, most of us are of this certain age, and even those who aren’t are exercising caution due to aging parents or a spouse with underlying conditions. Where are all the members going to come from to put on these shows?
The demise of some clubs will open up the dog-show calendar. Clubs whose shows occur on the hottest summer weekends may be able to move their shows to a better date. Is it really safe to hold a show during triple-digit weather?
Climate change is real, and it’s affecting our sport. I can remember years ago when we headed off to the big Terrier fest known as the Montgomery County weekend, we debuted our new fall wardrobes and took heavy coats for those crisp, sometimes frosty mornings. That is no longer the case.
Another casualty of the pandemic is the financial health of many of the facilities that can host a dog show. One of our local clubs with a 100-year history has learned its fairgrounds have closed forever. This club is not alone. By the end of this pandemic, one wonders how many facilities will survive.
I have always felt the AKC made a huge error in licensing more and more clubs. When the late AKC board member Bill Bergum proposed allowing back-to-back shows, we saw the start of something that in my humble opinion has lead to the decline of dog shows. Quickly there became too many opportunities for an exhibitor to go in many different directions. This has lead to smaller entries, and those small numbers can’t financially sustain a club. No longer could two-day weekends survive; they had to become clusters of three, four and five days to get a decent entry.
Bo Bengtson wrote a detailed Dog News article about what it takes financially to put on a dog show. So many exhibitors, naïve as they were, couldn’t understand why some clubs called off their 2020 shows. When interviewed, Del Valle was transparent and chose to tell exactly what it costs to put on the Harvest Moon Classic, and why we cancelled our 2020 show.
Financial considerations had already changed the Del Valle format. In the days when Del Valle had entries around 3,500 dogs, we could afford to sponsor an entire day of specialties. When those entries dropped by 1,000 dogs, we could no longer manage it. A thousand dogs equals $35,000. A last-minute cancellation by the facility or the state would have bankrupted the club.
I do think we’ll see some clubs that can’t survive this pandemic. As sad as that is to say, I don’t think for the health of the dog world that is a bad thing. Fewer shows mean larger entries at the shows that do survive. Fewer shows mean better competition.
Another bright spot is while dog fanciers are working from home they are breeding litters! I heard somewhere that registrations were up 7 percent. Exhibitors are bemoaning the fact they can’t show their promising puppies and worrying about adequate socialization. Meanwhile those young dogs are maturing, and I think the Bred-By Exhibitor classes are going to be a treat.
Judges must now decide whether they feel safe to fly to an assignment, to stay at a hotel and to eat in a restaurant. While doctors and nurses wear masks all day long, it’s one more challenge when judging dogs. I am interested in what spray I can buy that will stop my glasses from fogging up. Wearing a mask for seven hours of breed judging will be a challenge, and then add even more time to judge a group or two.
Many dog clubs are now conducting meetings via Zoom. This is working well in our club, allowing members to participate who now live too far from the usual meeting site. I am hopeful that those of you who are younger will now join your local all-breed club and help put on the dog show – and don’t tell me you don’t have time. If you have time to show your dogs every weekend, you have time to take one of those weekends off and put on a show for the benefit of others. It is the right thing to do.
My guess is COVID in 2021 is not going to be much different from COVID in 2020, and it’ll be quite some time yet before our world returns to some semblance of what it was. Meanwhile, wear the damn mask, keep six feet from me and wash your hands!