Who Is That Masked Man?
To wear or not to wear, that is the question!
Masks, in some form or another, have been and are an integral part of civilization, whether it’s for a performance, a ritual or a function. The earliest masks, around 7000 BC, were for ceremonies to communicate with ancestral spirits, and in 1897, Paul Berger covered his face with a piece of fabric while performing surgery, marking the first mask in health care.
It’s a known fact, if you choose science as your guide, that cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful defenses against slowing and stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus – particularly when used in a community setting such as the dog show. (In the high-risk health-care environment, the recommended mask is the N95. The N stands for “Not resistant to oil,” and the 95 means that the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small test particles.) No matter what kind of mask they wear, all members of the purebred dog community have a responsibility to protect themselves, their friends and their communities.
As a health-care professional/dog judge and exhibitor, I know firsthand that not everyone believes in science. I know, it’s crazy! However, it’s true. And just maybe, if we consider reframing the conversation to benefit the exhibitors and judges alike, we could achieve 100 percent compliance without individuals believing that their limited understanding of constitutional rights protects them from having to wear masks.
Yes, let’s for one minute remove from the conversation the fact that wearing a mask could save the lives of family, friends and even your favorite judge who yearly awards your exhibits numerous points, groups and several Best in Shows. Imagine what a loss that would be!
First, let us approach this from the fashion angle. As Clairee Belcher stated in the film Steel Magnolias: “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” Masks provide exhibitors and judges additional opportunities for shopping to fine-tune their appearance, making sure their dog-show mask of the day is harmonious with their outfits. Dog-show vendors can increase their revenue by including the latest mask fashions, and dog-food companies have yet-another opportunity for mass marketing with their logos proudly displayed on masks given to the various breed/group/BIS winners for their official photos.
For me personally, masks serve as a dog-show Trojan, eliminating the constant worry of halitosis, the dreaded thread of salad green lodged between my teeth, the occasional exhibitor or judge who feels it necessary, upon greeting, to shove their full lips into my face for a tongue-on-tongue experience, and the wet mouths projecting way too much saliva when asking why their dog did not win.
I have been told on numerous occasions that I would not make a very good poker player based on my facial expressions in and out of the ring. The mask offers a buffer between “Good God, why did you not place this dog in a pet home?” and “Thank you, Lord, for giving me this one and only dog out of 30 that looks like the breed!”
What if AKC required a full-face regulation ceremonial mask for all exhibitors who enter the ring (logoed, of course)? For my own personal amusement, it would be an educational opportunity to see how things would sort themselves out, breed by breed, without the judges being able to identify the exhibitors. Oh, how exciting that could be – a weekly masquerade party with open-ended possibilities! And the full-face regulation ceremonial AKC mask offers Judges (aka Pop Stars) living in fear of their own greatness a buffer from adoring dog-show fans, allowing them to maneuver freely around the rings, the grooming areas and hotel.
Mask wearing has been part of the everyday dog-show scene in Asia for decades. I remember my first Asian dog-show experience as a handler 32 years ago. Exhibitors, judges and spectators prioritized the needs of the group over their individual desires by putting face coverings on if sick, during flu season, or for whatever reason out of respect for others. It was the norm!
It would be a wonderful thing if everyone respected the welfare of others and did not view wearing masks as an attack on their personal freedoms. In the meantime, for those who enter the ring feeling the mandated mask is wrong at all cost, channel the ancient, the sacred and the playful aspects of mask wearing as you proudly present and gait your dog around the ring for the judge. Transform yourself through the imaginative experience as a winner and not a loser.