Big Dog, Small Dog

If your head says 'little dog' but your heart says 'big dog,' which do you trust?

AJ has been through more than a year of intensive treatments for cancer. She beat it. But the aftermath of the largely toxic treatment is exhaustion, slip-knot depressions, anxiety that breezes into her day sometimes for a while. She is recovering, and it's a gradual revival, like those surviving combat.

"There are days I just barely make it out of bed at all. And there are days I simply can't wait to get back into bed."

For some time now she has been part of a regular mindfulness meditation group. Her diet is vegan. She stretches. She runs for a while, though she still tuckers out before the goal distance she set for herself. Mostly she is up for a hiking, slow, mercifully slow, gently taking her back into long strides and deep breaths.

All of this is great, but she has no dog.

There is a rather powerful upsurge in this country for animal ownership for those recovering from cancer and other devastating illness. AJ's mentors tell her to hurry up and get a dog. Why?

"They say it will bring my energy back. They say it will help me feel less anxious, more loved, more overall happy. They also tell me recovery is better, faster, and easier for those who own a dog."

Okay, so, why doesn't she adopt a new dog?

"I have always had labs, mixed breeds, all of them big dogs, which I love. I love the feel of a big dog hug. I like their kisses. I like the way they feel, look, bark. And I've never been interested in small dogs at all."

Okay, so, why not get a big dog?

"But my energy level is not high enough to go running with a lab. My exercise routine is a mixed bag, inconsistent times and distances, depending on how much my fatigue lifts each day."

She is on the fence, because many of the things a big dog needs—exercise, runs, long hard walks, time and attention (particularly vigorous attention and athletic time)—are either not capabilities for her or too inconsistently capabilities for her.

Okay, so, why not get a small dog?

"Everything I associate with dog love is connected to big dogs, for me. I simply don't feel moved by little dogs. Well, I didn't until recently."

What happened recently?

"A breeder friend, who usually breeds labs, had some pugs. She offered me one. It really reached my heart and pulled at it."


"I'm scared. I don't want to commit to take on a dog who I then won't fall in love with. It's a long commitment, a heartfelt commitment, a deep relationship. I don't know how to half-ass that."

I want her to get that pug! Can other readers please chime in and share good experiences switching from big dogs to small dogs? She needs encouragement, and I want my former neighbor (of ten years plus) to fully recover, to have a restored heart, to rise above the fears, to see the fogs of depression lift for longer. And I know, from what I have seen, experienced, felt, read, and heard that she will recover better and quicker and deeper if she adds one of these little buddies to her daily routines.

"I'm so scared a pug won't be able to keep up as I need to climb higher, hike and run longer, move more miles and more often."

So, take the pug for the afterhike, chill-out, heel-cooling walkoff. Take the pug for other adventures and exercises. But take the pug. It will take you places inside that you really need to go again.

Other voices, please!

Don Helverson November 23, 2011 at 06:08 AM
Big Dog, Small Dog I fully understand AJ being concerned about going from a large dog to a small one. My daughter and I always liked large dogs and had them. Then she fell for one of her friend's chihuahuas and wanted one. I was pretty surprised. I agreed and we got one. At first it was very strange for me. This just simply did not feel like a dog. However, over time, I've come to absolutely LOVE these small dogs!!!!!!!! She has two of them now and a couple of my friends have small dogs. They offer a different kind of companionship. They aren't rugged but they do like to get out, go for walks, be with you and are SO Loving!!!!! Perhaps a Pug isn't for her but also there may be a dog that's a little bit bigger or a different breed or a mix that she could relate to. I just think she would be happier in her Life with a dog!!!! Go For It AJ!!! You'll be surprised! --Sent to my email from a reader, meant for everyone and AJ, too!
Janice Shanahan November 23, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Please check out Pet Orphans if you are thinking about a rescue dog. They will work with you to match the dog to the owner. They also work very hard to find dogs that are people and animal friendly. These dogs really need our love and a forever home.
Sherry "Pawnuts" Brewer November 24, 2011 at 04:07 AM
If AJ is not sure about making a commitment to a dog just now, she might consider fostering one, either through the shelter or a rescue organization. Fosters are in great demand because it enables the shelters to free up cage space, and it enables rescuers to get more dogs out of the shelters. It won't be a problem if AJ were to fall in love and want to adopt the dog. There are many "foster failures" in the club. Consideration should also be given for an adult/senior dog from the shelter. They are so appreciative of being given a second chance at life and they will reward their new guardian with love and loyalty. I'm constantly receiving emails from rescuers and volunteers who are trying to save the lives of dogs (and cats, too) whose owners dumped them in the shelter because "they were moving," "getting divorced," "teaching the kids a lesson," etc. I would be happy to meet with AJ and accompany her to a shelter to introduce her to a homeless dog. Or I'll be happy to tell her names of rescue groups she could contact for fostering. Lastly, shame on the "breeder friend." There are plenty of Pugs and Labs being dumped and killed in our shelters daily. Why not rescue and rehome some of them?
Don Helverson November 24, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Fabulous suggestions and recommendations. Thanks so much, everyone!
Aj Trotter November 25, 2011 at 07:27 AM
Thank you Don for writing this article about my situation. The comments and suggestions from your reader's are wonderful! Thank you everyone!! I can't wait to have Don write my follow-up story about my new friend.... guess we'll have to wait and see whether he or she is big or small :) I'm sure we'll find each other and the match will be perfect. And, to CB and Pam, I'm sorry to hear that your friend's are fighting cancer too. My thoughts are with them. Wishing you all health and happiness on this Thanksgiving day ~ thanks again!


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