By Linda Nagata
When I was small I lived in a house full of Great Pyrenees. Think of Newfoundland dogs, only white. They’re big and fluffy and probably weighed two times or more what I did. At their peak population in our household, my family had three females and one male, along with occasional litters of very cuddly puppies.
The upside of this was that even as an eight year old, I wasn’t the least frightened of big dogs. I remember walking into a room full of Great Danes and thinking nothing of it. There is something glorious about being best friends with giant dogs, especially when you’re small.
But there are downsides to big dogs too. This was made clear to me when I was maybe nine years old. I took one of the Pyrenees for a walk on the multi-acre property where my family was living at the time. As we neared the road the dog spotted our neighbor’s new kitten and took off after it—and I suddenly discovered there was no way a skinny child could control a hundred-plus pound dog. I was hauled along behind, still clutching the leash, while the poor kitten was caught and killed. After that, my big best friend was quite happy to again do exactly what I asked her to do, but I think that was the last walk I ever took her on outside the fenced section of the property. And to this day I am known to intone: “If you’re not big enough or strong enough to control that dog, you shouldn’t have it.”
When I was around ten years old my family moved from California to Hawaii, and our family dogs were downsized from Great Pyrenees to Golden Retrievers—and what a fantastic size for a dog that proved to be! The Goldens were so much easier to deal with than the giant breeds, but they were still plenty big enough for rough-housing and play. “A dog-sized dog,” as people like to say.
From the age of ten or so, until I left for college, I lived with Goldens in the house, and when I graduated, my gift to myself was a Golden puppy named Daisy. In later years my husband and I had two more Goldens—and then I downsized again.
Finding a well-bred Golden that I could afford became an impossible task and eventually we wound up at the Humane Society, where we adopted a tiny black puppy described as a border collie-lab mix. He grew up into a terrific dog that weighed in at only forty-five pounds—twenty pounds or so less than a golden. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it was enough to make handling the dog significantly easier, and feeding him noticeably less costly. This, I thought, is the ideal size for a dog.
Then we downsized again. My daughter bought a Japanese Spitz puppy that came to live with us for a time. At her adult weight, Koda is only fourteen pounds—not tiny by the standards of tiny breeds, but plenty small to me! Koda was my first real experience with small dogs, and I have to say that she is awesome: very smart and loving, with a wonderful temperament. But she inspires in me small-dog anxiety. Maybe it’s because she’s the size of a baby, but I worry about her just like I would about a toddler. It’s an anxiety I never had with the bigger dogs, but when I look at Koda I can’t help thinking how defenseless she would be if a bigger dog came after her. Maybe this is just the trauma of the kitten-incident surfacing decades later, but it’s almost impossible for me to let her wander alone around our big fenced yard.
When Koda moved back with my daughter, my husband and I found ourselves without a canine best friend for the first time in our relationship. So I guess you could say we’ve downsized to nothing. That suits us for now, but I think I can promise that the next dog we get will finally reverse the long trend of the shrinking best friend.
Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book Hepen the Watcher, is the second in a fast-paced mythic fantasy series featuring the antihero demon, Smoke.