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!