What’s in a label, anyway?

Zoe, relaxing on my daybed, about three months before she died.

Late this afternoon, I took my almost 13 year-old Maltipoo to be put down. As she lay on the table at the vet clinic, I began thinking of all the labels she has had over the years. “Young geriatric” is a label she was given at two years old, because she was always like an old dog instead of a puppy. She’s allergic, she’s autistic, she has attachment disorder, she has anxiety, she’s a chewer (of her own paws), she possibly has Addison’s disease, she’s a cardiac patient, she’s an overeater, etc.

Labels are often a good thing. Mailing labels, for example, that identify where the postman needs to leave your mail. People labels are another thing altogether. A disease gets a label and that’s good so the doctors know what to treat, but when a person BECOMES a label to others it can be a problem. What do you see when you think of someone who has a label (i.e., black, white, Jewish, autistic, overweight, homeless, etc)? Can you drop the label and see the person?

Yet as she lay dying, I was so aware that she was no longer a label and in fact has never really BEEN any of her labels to me. She was just Zoe, a dog who struggled through life just like we all do. A dog who did her best to be a dog, to be my pet, to be with me when I was sick. True, she was indeed a strange dog, probably from a puppy mill, and she never wanted to be held. Yet I loved her for who she was, and not for any of her labels. I overlooked them for over twelve years, and accepted her as she was. How many of us do that with people? It is the greatest gift we can give to anyone, to leave labels behind and love them as the people they are. We are all going to be the same as we lay dying. Just people (or dogs) doing the best we can do while on this earth. No more labels.