Wed, 10/21/2020 - 10:00pm

The Elbow Bump in the Road

Pat Trotter muses on how COVID has changed our sport – in some respects, for the better

It’s probably safe to say that 2020 has been the worst year in memory for most Americans, with its multiple disasters led by the COVID virus. Yet for those of us in dogs, could there be a sliver of a silver lining?

Bear in mind that this writer is totally aware of the hardships faced by the fancy, from professional handlers to one-dog exhibitors. Our personal lives and our sport have been slammed by economic fallout, lockdowns and resulting depression. So moving on, let us consider some of those changes that long term could be for the good of the order.

My initial experience with the “elbow bump” came on my first morning of the Kentuckiana Cluster in March, when the amiable AKC representative Michael Szabo greeted me with his elbow and a smile. By the next afternoon, Kentucky officials had shut down the dog shows, and soon we were faced with masks, six-foot social distancing and endless washing of hands, along with lockdowns.

Months elapsed with no dog shows before finally some brave souls working with AKC and local officials were able to reintroduce the fancy to the sport we love.

With their usual resilience, dog people responded to the “new normal” of masking, picking up their own armbands from tables, social distancing, entering and exiting in different areas from the rings, limited personnel in the venue and so on. Truly, it was a testimony to that familiar adage – the show must go on! So perhaps a look at the changed scenario and how it could affect the future is in order.

Those dedicated kennel-club members who jumped through numerous hoops to stage dog shows were remarkable with their patience, resources and indefatigable efforts so it all could happen. Our entire fancy owes them our appreciation.

Never before have kennel clubs, superintendents and exhibitors dealt with so many last-minute judge changes due to coronavirus fallout. Any judge who felt slightly unwell justifiably cancelled. Any judge whose doctors said, “You should not fly” was forced to cancel. When entries closed, shows overloaded due to the changing circumstances of the situation, and even more last-minute judges had to be found.

Revolving doors and musical chairs come to mind, yet show chairpersons rose to the occasion to cope with these nightmares. God bless them all!

And as the fancy continues to deal with these unprecedented times, perhaps an evaluation of some changes is in order. Consider the “elbow bump” that replaces hugs and kisses. Because we now know most COVID cases are spread through droplets in the air, the more we social distance from others, the healthier we all remain. Consider how often dog fanciers came home from New York in February with flu bugs. Because we loved seeing friends we haven’t seen for awhile, we always hugged, laughed and air-kissed – all of which enable virus droplets to circulate. If elbow bumps and masks had been used, perhaps the cases of flu would have been greatly reduced. Maybe the continued use of this new behavior even when vaccines become available is in the best interest of all as we continue to resist the urge to hug.

Then there is the issue of getting in and out of the ring. One result of the entrance and exit designations is no more crowding, with exhibitors trying to get out of the ring at the same time others are trying to get in. Exhibitors and handlers tell me they like this concept a lot. So do judges, as ring stewards can get those in the next class in the ring and ready while social distancing with no lost time due to crowding. One handler said to me, “Why didn’t we think of this a long time ago?”

The distribution of armbands seems to be universally accepted as it reduces crowding at ringside and allows stewards to concentrate on absentees and marking their own books. The only question heard from ring stewards has to do with their distance from the judge, and some seem to work between the entrance and the exit, making communication easier for all.

As far as wearing masks is concerned, all attendees are adhering to this requirement. The fact is that masks protect all from the spread of disease, and one seldom ventures into public places anymore where the adornment is not required. Although medical masks and the popular light-blue colored ones are the most prevalent, individual masks can be very decorative and attractive. Those who create designer masks constitute a new cottage industry.

Then there is the constant hand-washing. One 40-ish professional handler commented he had washed his hands more since March than all the rest of his life combined … even counting to the full 20 seconds recommended by the experts. “Every time I bathe a dog, I think it’s helping me, too!”

No doubt about it, dog people are quick learners who manage to adapt to changing circumstances with great skill. Many have sought differing jobs to prime the pump through these trying times. Getting through the somberness of it all has been easier with the love and companionship of those that make this all possible – the dogs themselves. Speaking of those dogs, it is obvious they have loved the closeness to their people partners provided by the lockdowns. Bonds have become stronger than ever.

In retrospect, even the worst of times can provide that sliver of a silver lining. Turning lemons into lemonade for their well-being, dog people are survivors. With their canine companions, they move on. Perhaps our greatest collective message is from the Bee Gees’ upbeat song of the ’70s: Staying Alive! And that’s what we’re doing!



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