Saturday, May 6, 2023

Downward Sizing Dog: A Reformed Big Dog Snob Defends the Small Dog Life, by Karen Lena Izzo

Small Dog Press, LLC, January 2023

Karen Lena Izzo gives the reader a practical, honest, realistic account of her transition from a lover of big dogs, mostly hunting breed dogs, which really negative views of small dogs (with all the insulting views anyone with small dogs has heard ad nauseum), to someone who not only loves her two Havanese dogs, but happily and knowledgeably explains the advantages of small dogs.

First, of course, it's necessary to establish that small dogs are actually dogs, real dogs, with all the traits of dogs, not a failed attempt at a cat. (Whose own advantages, let me point out, not only many big dog owners, but Ms. Izzo, seem not to appreciate.) Small dogs, like big dogs, are people-oriented, loyal, ready to please if you take the time to show them how. They're resilient and adaptable.

Then there are the specific advantages of small dogs. First, and most obvious, they're small. They fit well into smaller homes and more heavily scheduled lives. They're very portable--easier to travel with if you need or want to travel. 

They're cheaper to feed. I'm on a very limited income, and have been through some rough times. but my current dog is a 12 pound Chinese Crested dog, and her predecessor was a 9 pound Chinese Crested. They've both been my service dogs, so legally I have been able to have them in housing where I otherwise couldn't. But, while legally the same would have been true for a Lab or a Golden, or similarly sized dogs, I cannot imagine keeping such a dog in a 250sqft studio apartment. Over  a bar. With an outside staircase down to, not a yard, but a parking lot shared with the bar.

Small dogs are also much cheaper to feed. In my case, I've taken advantage of that to feed my dogs a much higher-quality diet than I could afford if I had a border collie, like the beloved dog of my teen and young adult years. Never mind how a dog of that size and energy level would fit in that 250sqft studio apartment. (I'm out of that now, into a one-bedroom more than twice the size. And there are actual landscaped grounds for us to walk on.)

Ms. Izzo gives us lively interviews and anecdotes, illustrating the ways the big dogs she grew up with, and raised her children with, aren't really a good fit for many American families these days. More and more of us live in cities, where we don't have big yards to play with the dogs in, and are more heavily scheduled, so that we just don't have the time for devoting ourselves to other activities that would let dogs that size exercise both their bodies and their brains. 

Big dogs also, just being themselves in our homes and lives, cause a lot more dirt, shedding, and even potentially destruction, the last being due not to them being innately bad dogs, but because, as noted above, they're less likely to get the exercise their bodies and brains need, in urban houses with little or no land.

Small dogs, even when they do play in the mud and come in, have, literally, much smaller footprints. They don't bring in as much dirt and mud. You can pick them up and put them in the sink for a quick bath. Ms. Izzo has lots of great anecdotes about how much difference this makes in being able to live successfully with our beloved dogs. 

They can't even do, usually, as much damage if they do decide to chew on a table leg.

In addition, both veterinary and grooming visits are significantly less expensive. It really does matter how much anesthesia is needed when your dog is spayed or neutered, what the doses need to be for other drugs, such as heartworm preventatives, or how much time it's going to take the groomer to do a proper groom on your miniature poodle vs. a standard poodle.

And all of this is interspersed with real data.

But in many ways the best parts of this book are the stories about how her own Havanese, Phoebe and Scout, and other people's small dogs, have made themselves important, even vital, in the lives of their people. I'm not the only person, by far, who has a small breed service dog. They can't be guide dogs, and are very limited in the mobility assistance they they can provide (mostly picking up or fetching small items so their person doesn't need to do what are for them physically challenging movements), but they're great as medical alert dogs of all kinds. And for all they are mocked for being yappy, nonstop barkers, most, if their humans pay attention and reward desired rather than undesired behavior, are really good at alerting to someone at the door, and stopping when you acknowledge what they're telling you. In that tiny studio apartment with the paper-thin walls, my dog was vital to knowing whether there was actually someone at my apartment door, or instead someone at the neighbor's door. I am not kidding. And yet, I have often been asked, "does your dog ever bark?", because she doesn't do so unnecessarily. She barks when she really has something to say.

Ms. Izzo tells wonderful stories, or has their owners do so, of service dogs, therapy dogs, and just household watchdogs who know when they need to bark and when their voices aren't needed.

They don't need the hours of running per day that my sister's Labs used to, but they love to go for walks with you, and are a great way to meet your neighbors and know your neighborhood.

This is a fun and useful book. If it has a drawback, it's that Ms. Izzo is a retired estate planning attorney, with perhaps an unrealistic idea of how often people take trips in which they would like to take their dogs on the plane with them. It gave me an uncomfortable sense that she's not completely aware of the degree of privilege she has. (Not completely unaware, either, though, as a few other comments elsewhere reveal.) However, if you do have to or want to do that, it is absolutely true that it's both cheaper to do that with a small dog, and safer for the dog. Dogs who are too big to fit in a carrier under your seat need to fly cargo, and that should be absolutely a last resort in a dire emergency. Ms. Izzo doesn't say this, but I will: If you have to travel with a dog who can't fly in the cabin with you, drive instead if at all possible.

Ms. Izzo does a wonderful job of making clear that small dogs are just dogs in a smaller package, with all the same traits that make us love dogs, and there's also a lot of useful information in here.

I bought this book.

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