Thu, 04/30/2020 - 6:26am

To Mask or Not to Mask?

With apologies to Willie Shakespeare, that is the question.

"To MASK, or not to MASK: that is the question ..."

Well, you know the rest ...Maybe Willie Shakespeare saw this coming.

Whether someone should wear a mask or not has unfortunately become a political issue when it simply should have been a question of what is best for our health. Why is it so confusing? Take a look at two very different quotes from the Centers for Disease Control and it is easy to understand the confusion:

In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, along with evidence of widespread COVID-19 illness in communities across the country, CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting. This is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms.


Though health officials have warned Americans to prepare for the spread of the novel coronavirus in the U.S., people shouldn’t wear face masks to prevent the spread of the infectious illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. surgeon general.

So which is it? Not only am I not a doctor, I haven't even played one on television, nor recently stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. Whichever quote you choose to believe, it is undeniable that after group gatherings where masks were not worn, instances of COVID-19 infection have risen, and been spread to others. So how will we handle this in our dog show community?

Even more, how will judges – including this judge – react to the situation? What is the best thing to do?

In May of this year, AKC Judging Operations issued a statement of Best Practices for Judges and Events, parts of which are:

• Judges should consider wearing face masks if otherwise not required.
• Judges must practice ring awareness, be conscious of spacing, and take appropriate measures to avoid crowding of exhibitors
• ....  it is up to the clubs to determine the guidelines that best fit their events.

The guidelines also specifically state that it is up to the club to enforce local rules – such as whether everyone should wear a mask, and that it is not in the judge's authority to refuse an exhibitor's entrance because the exhibitor is not wearing a mask.

So, if – as the CDC has said the wearing of a mask ... is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms, and AKC suggests that a judge wear a mask to protect others. But there is nothing from AKC even suggesting that exhibitors wear a mask. Does that mean it is more important to protect exhibitors than it is to protect judges (who very often are in the age-endangered group)?

I have heard judges called many things, but this is the first time I have heard them classified as expendable. I have not spoken to one judge yet who says he or she won't wear a mask. Will exhibitors do so on their own accord? I think it has already been proven that we cannot count on the (un)common sense of the general public, but perhaps our community is more advanced.

Even if masks are worn, there obviously will need to be serious changes in the judging process –and maybe in results. As the AKC Best Practices further states,"You may encounter breeds/entries that react differently to masks. ... Yes, dogs should be trained properly, but we will need to exercise patience. You may opt to alter your personal use of a mask based on specific circumstances if not otherwise required. Most importantly, if an entry is acting adversely, choose to excuse rather than push too far and potentially create a greater issue."

Judges should certainly have at least a basic understanding of canine behavior. That being said, would we be surprised if many breeds – such as Sighthounds, many Working and Herding breeds (and other "protection type animals") – reacted negatively or even aggressively? No matter the group, any somewhat insecure dog could certainly be overly nervous about a stranger approaching while wearing a mask? This may not be fair to the dogs, but what other choice do we have?

There have been hundreds of shows cancelled or rescheduled during this pandemic, and these clubs all made difficult decisions – or had them made by local laws. Unfortunately, some of these clubs may not return. Clubs have made these serious decisions based on factors such as:

• Public health and safety of all show participants. Uncertainties as to state, local and facility regulations.

• Uncertainty of availability and potential modifications to show site and procedures.

• Negative financial projections that might jeopardize future events.

And sometime soon, additional decisions will have to be made by exhibitors and judges. If we did not realize it before, we realize now that dog shows have become a significant part of our lives. We are all desperately missing the competition, camaraderie and seeing friends. How far will exhibitors be willing to drive to a show now? Will judges be willing to get on those flying petri dishes otherwise known as airplanes? What about the judge who has to take three flights each way to get to a show? Will we be willing to stay at local motels? How will judges' lunch be served? What about restaurants? This is certainly one area where those with motor homes have an advantage.

Another thing that will have to change was pointed out by a fellow judge: "Using bait is another problem, especially when an exhibitor has it in their mouth then throws it." Will this be the impetus to finally stop that ridiculous – and unnecessary – bit of showmanship?

One judge's comment would be echoed by dozens of others: "Will do whatever is necessary to get dog shows going again." I have already had dozens of assignments cancelled, and expect that shortly I will have to decide what to do when a show is not cancelled. When will I – and other judges and exhibitors – feel safe and comfortable to return to a show? As a friend said, "Every person will have to make their own decision based on their medical history and where they live."

Another pointed out, "Some exhibitors have said they can't run with a mask on. (hard to breathe) Then should they wear the mask while their dog is examined and then drop it off when gaiting? Would that at least protect the judge?"

How will this work for some of our older exhibitors – especially in hot weather?

I have always loved being in the ring, whether it be showing or judging. Now that I am well past my showing days, judging dogs is what brings me great joy. I want to get back to judging. I want to get back in the ring. I want to see "my dog show family." But ...

What do you think?


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