Breeds, Catahoula Leopard Dog, fosterdogs, fostering, Gala, oph

The Ridiculous Nature of a Label

Can’t a dog just be a dog?

A happy dog? An energetic dog? A lazy dog? A funny dog? A best-friend dog? A dog who runs-thru-the-invisible-fence-and-rolls-in-horse-poop dog?

Why do we insist on labeling a dog as a particular breed? I’ve been thinking about this way too much of late. Partly, this is because of my new puppy, Frankie, but mostly this is because of my foster dog, Gala.

Frankie is, allegedly, a Catahoula Leopard Dog. Which only means that the vet who inspected him in South Carolina was obligated to assign him and his littermates a breed. He/she settled on Catahoula because the puppies had a few of the markers for Catahoula (merle coloring, light eye color). He could have decided on Great Dane, which can also have those traits, but their size didn’t warrant that.

My guess is that any vet screening a puppy or dog who is lucky enough to get pulled by a rescue from a high-kill shelter, knows that designating the dog as a popular breed gives him a better chance for a quick adoption. (Rarely, does a “pitbull” come northward on a rescue ride, although that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of pitbulls who get a ticket.)

They can’t be way off the mark, for instance, no one would buy it if the vet labeled Frankie a Dachsaund or a Huskie. He had to at least stay in the ball park. Catahoula’s are popular in the south (they’re the state dog of Louisiana), so it’s a logical guess.

But it’s only a guess. Here’s a stock photo of a Catahoula puppy and Frankie:

And truth be told, I don’t care what breed Frankie is. I only care about the kind of dog he is. I know that he is smart and gentle and easy-going and fun. I know he likes to burrow by my side when I am reading in a little Frankie-ball. I know that on sunny days, he likes to slither slowly down the hill on his belly like a lizard and no amount of me hurrying him up can stop him. I know he wants the cat to be his best friend, he’s determined to catch a butterfly, and he gets car sick if he doesn’t ride up front.

I have no idea, nor do I care, what his breed is. I only know that he is a good dog.

Gala, for the past six months, has been listed on the OPH website as a ‘retriever.’ This is only the vaguest of terms, it’s not even a singular breed. As she languishes at my house, unable to attend adoption events because of her fear of other dogs, I worried that her non-breed designation was hindering her chances of finding an adopter. After all, who goes on Petfinder and searches for a ‘retriever?’

So combing through her original records, which are buried amongst many layers of records accumulated since being rescued by OPH, I found a vet in South Carolina who originally labeled her a ‘Yellow Labrador Retriever.’ Aha! A real breed! A popular breed! But, from my intimate experience with Gala, definitely not her breed.

And yet, legally, we can only advertise her with the labels given by the vets who screened her– Labrador Retriever or retriever. So, this week, if you visit the OPH website, you will discover that she has morphed from a retriever to a Yellow Labrador Retriever. Will this help her find her people? I have no idea, but at this point, I feel compelled to do something.

I also listed a secondary breed (which is generally a foster’s guess) as Boxer. I think her coloring, her athleticism, her intensity, and her habit of using her paws like hands would make Boxer a definite possibility.

Here’s what the AKC says about Boxers:

They are patient and spirited with children, but also protective, making them a popular choice for families. Their heritage as a chaser of wild game means that they spend a good deal of time jumping and leaping about, and as young dogs, they are constantly in need of correction to teach them to stay “down.” They need daily exercise. Boxers are highly intelligent but intolerant of repetitious commands that they consider boring – they definitely have minds of their own and are excellent problem solvers.

Describes Gala perfectly.

My other guess is Viszla. They are known for their speed, energy, hunting abilities, and love of people. Gala is more or less the color of a Viszla. She has speed, energy, and hunting abilities in spades. And wow, is she devoted to her people. Should could very likely be Viszla.

Here’s a few words about Viszlas from Dogtime:

Despite their penchant for sticking close to their human pals, Vizslas are versatile and hard-working dogs who are happiest when they have a job to do. In a family, that job can be hunting companion, therapy dog, or jogging buddy. Give him at least an hour of exercise per day, and the Vizsla will be your best friend.

Gala is all those things, too.

But then again, she might be Dalmatian or Whippet or Weimaraner. Truth – she could be any breed.

And why, people, is that so very important?

What will knowing her breed tell you, that I can’t tell you after six very eventful months living with this dog?

My very first horse was a purebred Arabian. An amazing and beautiful horse I acquired as a yearling and named, Shoe-bee-doo-wa. (His name at the farm where he was born was ‘B’ because he was the second foal born that year.) In the hunter/jumper world that I moved in, teaching and training, many people looked down their noses at Arabians. They said they were too excitable, flighty, difficult, spooky, and they had awful form over fences.

black and white

I loved Shoebee, as only a teenager with her first horse can, so I poured my heart, soul, and every waking hour into him. He defied his breed label and was a talented and athletic jumper with a warm, playful personality and a sweet nature. He was no more excitable than any other horse in the barn.

jumping

When anyone made a snide remark about him being the first nice Arabian they’d encountered, I’d tell them that their horses were all Arabians, too.  Then I’d remind them the very first horses were Arabians, which meant all horses are their descendants. We’ve bred to bring out certain characteristics in different breeds, but their basic DNA is still horse. And that horse is an Arabian.

Frankie is a dog. Gala is a dog.

Who knows what breeds created them, and even if we knew those breeds, we can’t possibly know which characteristics came along for the ride. If Gala is a Lab, well, she certainly didn’t get the easy-going nature, but she did get the love of people, joyful eating habits, affinity for water, and the ability to monopolize the couch.

I think breed designation is much like horoscopes. I can find something familiar in the descriptions and fortunes of any sign. I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’m like that,’ even when 50% of what is there is completely not me.

For whatever reason, this world needs to label everyone and everything. Why that is has always confounded me. We do it with people, as well as dogs. As a writer, I like to have the right word for something, too, but a label is too confining. Anyone who has raised a child (or fostered a dog) knows there are very few absolutes in life, in people, or in dogs.

Much too often, we worry over our labels and our assumptions, instead of looking at the dog in front of us. As a dog. Another good dog.

Gala-15

Thanks for reading.

If you’d like more information on Gala, or any of the other good dogs available through OPH Rescue, click here.

If you’d like to know more about my writing, blogs, and books, click here.

If you’d like more regular updates of foster dogs past and present, be sure to join my Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

Have an awesome week.

My Best,

Cara

13 thoughts on “The Ridiculous Nature of a Label”

  1. Gala looks loads like my son’s Walker- Coon Hound. Other than her coloring (which seems Boxer-ish) she could be Hastur’s twin. Plus high insane energy with loads of jumping ability.

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  2. Interesting post. I hadn’t thought of dogs in this way before. Do you still use your horses for riding and recreation? They too can be loving and loyal, wanting to please their handlers. And they sure love treats.

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    1. We haven’t been able to ride since losing my older mare last May. My young boy, True, has a condition called ‘kissing spine’ and at this point we aren’t in a position to treat it (expense/logistics/facility), so he’s basically retired. His back seems fine if no one is sitting on it. This leaves Nick’s mount as the only ridable horse and he’s unlikely to get on her if there isn’t a ride to the brewery on the agenda. Hoping something in this situation changes soon or we find a good retirement home for True and can get another riding horse. So, basically we have two very large pets!

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