Best Friends Blog

A lesson in stereotyping

My colleague Holly Sizemore and I were driving together to a business meeting in Phoenix a few weeks back. It was dark as we passed down the highway that traverses the Navajo Nation, a wild and woolly area with a strange, almost haunted atmosphere.

Holly and I discussed how we both dislike driving this road at night, as there are often dogs on the road straying from wherever they call home. Sure enough, we soon came across a sad scene. One dog lay dead in the road — hit by a car. Two others sniffed their dead friend; one of them clearly had a paralyzed back end, presumably also having been hit.

We screeched to a halt, wanting desperately to get the two dogs off the road and away from the speeding traffic. We succeeded and eventually were able to get both dogs into the car and to an emergency vet in Flagstaff summoned for us by animal control. Sadly, an X-ray revealed that the paralyzed dog had a severely broken back, leaving him no chance of survival. We comforted him and wished him well as the vet quietly euthanized him.

The third dog was a big, bouncing, bumptious chocolate Lab, as friendly as could be. The animal control officer took him to Flagstaff Humane Society for safekeeping with a message that we would call them in the morning. After determining that we had a slot available at the Sanctuary for a friendly, adoptable dog, we visited the dog, now named Patch, on our way back from Phoenix, and made plans to get him to Best Friends after the statutory few days’ hold period.

At Best Friends, Patch has proven himself to be the almost perfect dog: friendly, loving, enthusiastic, but not overly so, and well behaved. “Highly adoptable, no problem,” the Dogtown staff told me. (Editor’s note: Dogtown couldn’t have been more right, Patch has gone to his forever home)

Walking away from visiting Patch, I realized he was forcing me to examine my stereotypes. I thought of Labs as very friendly, often goofy, and always out of control — sometimes wildly — but that isn’t so with Patch. Patch loves to play and greets you excitedly, but he can also be calm.

I confess my guilt. I’ve been thinking about this breed in exactly the same way that those who advocate breed-discriminatory legislation think, the same way people who ban pit bull terriers think, or believe rottweilers are dangerous, or Dobermans, or … whatever the vicious dog of the day is. In the same way that some people say all cats are aloof.

No, all animals are individuals. They have their own distinct personalities, formed by nurture a lot more than nature.

We do them a significant injustice if we forget that. And we deny ourselves the depth of the relationship we can have with them.

Gregory Castle

CEO, Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Angele

    Gregory Castle you are amazing! Holly too!

  • hzator

    I agree with you, I have a golden lab, that is a very playful dog, but also the calmest dog I’ve ever had, definitely not your typical lab. loves to play, loves people, always happy, but very sensitive to my feelings.

  • Wjolie

    LOL, is there a problem with THAT stereo type? I call them wacky-labby’s for all these reasons “I thought of Labs as very friendly, often goofy, and always out of control — sometimes wildly” and its what makes me adore them, they are the class clown … Love calms them however.  Every breed has stereotypes, but those that adopt them find the goofiness in it.  I work with goldens and trust that when I have a foster that doesn’t sit at the bathroom door (“HEWOO, I wanna go to the party in there too!!!) I’m shocked! But there are actually goldens that do not follow you around, BAD BREEDING I GUESS!! ROFL!

  • Squeakie42

    Interesting — I always thought of chocolate Labs as high-strung and overactive, not like the black & blonde Labs I’ve known.  Maybe I’ve only met one part of the Chocolate bloodline! 

  • Miss Marla

     I find that really funny that so many people agree with this Lab stereotyping. Every Lab I’ve ever know have be stoic, peaceful, loyal and for the most part, mellow. I always thought it was these qualities that made them such a popular choice for families.

    • Dreolin2004

      LOL! Having worked in the veterinary and rescue fields I have seen TONS of labs and the only ones I have seen that are stoic and calm are older ones. It seems all the ones I have seen under the age of 3 are some variant of hyper. Opinions always come down to one’s own experience.

  • Very good point. My Miniature Schnauzer fits many of the sterotypes of a typical “yappy little dog”, as a compulsive barker with some hyperactivity issues; but people pigeonhole her by assuming she’s good for nothing but being cute and running around the house. In fact, she knows over 65 commands, words, and phrases; she helps with my disability by retrieving objects and picking up items I drop, she can open and close cupboard doors and retrieve objects from inside, and so much more. 

    Being a small fluffy dog doesn’t mean she’s good for nothing but being cute and barking any more than having a square head and a deep chest means pit bulls and other so-called “dangerous” breeds means those dogs are incapable of being gentle, loving pets. The breed only gives you an idea of what you might expect, it does not define a dog’s personality and behaviour.

  • Wynne

    Happily, ever lab I’ve ever known or had lived up to this breed stereotype. But it’s a point well taken.

  • Yellowolf

    Uh, oh…I will need to change my thoughts now too as I always believed Lab are out of control.  Yikes…thanks for the wake up call and beautiful story!

  • I learned this lesson myself when working with Pit Bulls at the Humane Society.  Each dog is an individual, just like people.  Great story and good job to you and your friend for stopping and saving Patch!

  • Lovefelines2003

    Beautifully said, and I too would like to know if anyone is helping the dogs in the area where these 3 dogs were found.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful blog.  Please keep this subject alive.  Pit bulls are the latest victims of stereotyping.  Humans and animals are all individuals and should be treated as such.  Once we start grouping people or animals together and assuming they are all the same it never ends well.  I feel so sorry for the pit bulls.  I really hope their reputation and future can be restored and I hope another group of dogs does not take its place in being persecuted.

  • The Social Pet

    I would like to know how Best Friends can help the dogs at the Navajo Nation to prevent the incident from ever happening. Who is helping those people and their pets?

    • Forthepitties

      Best Friends does the best they can to work with the Navajo Nation concerning res dogs. The situation is a bit different there as the reservation is its own nation. Animal welfare agencies can’t just go storming in to help, they have to ask permission and sadly, the reservation is not too concerned about what happens to the dogs. There are a few people on the reservation that try but they have extremely limited resources, if any at all to help the dogs. Kayenta, AZ for example has a vet and a small metal building setup as a makeshift shelter but it can barely function. Earlier in the spring a small group of people wanted to help the vet out with donations, food, medicine and other supplies and basically, some help was o.k. and appreciated but a large outpouring of help was not well received. The Navajo people can see such efforts as interfering. Helping the reservation dogs can be rather tricky.