Smokie was a small, cunningly calculating dog, with a special skill to stay clean for no longer than 10 minutes after her weekly shower. Not very much larger than a rodent, with long ragged fur hanging to the ground that swabbed everything in it’s path, she existed happily somewhere between rat and mop. There was a clear purpose and focus to her life like few of us have. Why she was on this planet was clearly to gain and maintain favour with her master over the other dog she shared the roof with, a great dane - incidentally just 5 times her size. She used her shrill screechy bark to full capacity to make a point. Pitch snarling battles ensued in the frequent fights over territory. Fewer teeth, shredded ears, bald patches, none of that was a deterrent. Size didn't matter. Her vision was to share her masters lap with no-one. She was convinced that she was built by her maker to fit perfectly into it. The lap was her rightful place that she intended enjoying without interruptions. When he moved, the tap of toenails followed. A man and his tapping mop.
It’s easy for dogs to grow on you with their unreasonable loyalty and dedication. The easiest source of companionship in a family. No questions asked, no grudges held, no expectations set. Every time you return home, however many times even in the same day, you’re always smothered with the same bounding tail thumping joy, wet kisses and flying jumps. If because of short term memory loss, or out of unquestioning love, it’s a relationship of endless chances. Dogs rely on rather simplistic primitive ways of knowing they are cared for and they simply care back. A good feed, a nice tickle under the belly, a bone on the weekends. That’s how the basic equation plays out in dog terms, of being cared for and caring back.
Over the course of life whatever we start regarding as family can go beyond blood, or race or even species. The basic equation remains the same, being cared for and caring back. Only, this equation has to balance between every member of the family and yourself and then between those members and so on and so forth. Especially because a family consists of human members too, who don’t afford endless chances or suffer from short term memory loss, it becomes a fragile and complex equation.
Yet at it’s core it remains basic - being cared for and caring back.
When those basics don’t work both ways, what results is a great family divide. Creating sides that members having to choose between, making what’s left look less and less like a family with each subsequently failed equation. One lifetime seems hopelessly short to build bridges across the chasm.
Little Smokie contracted cancer. The many happy years spent jumping on and off window sills, knocking down ceramics, generally dedicated to annoying everyone over her quest for attention were coming to an end. At first she seemed to respond to the treatment, most of her old bad habits were back. She was swabbing the floor again, fighting down the great dane again. And then things took a turn for the worse, right when her beloved master was on a long trip out of town. Visibly in a lot of pain, sinking further every day, she still mustered the strength to limp to the usual places, checking if he had returned. The ever slowly tapping mop, and no man.
Doctors had said she would go any day, that was 5 days ago. There was no letting go for her, until he was home. For a man of status and image who had defined his life by calculated decisions based on economic sense, a dog that wouldn’t die without seeing him again was out of the usual frame of operation. Sound logical rationale based on profit margins and opportunity that saw him through many professional successes found no application here. What if the trip was disrupted to enable his return and he would still not make it in time to see her? Well then we would have tried.
So for no other reason, than the persistence of this cheeky little rag dog, did the most touchingly human side of a man emerge. Too weak at this point for any part of her smothering gig, she knew nevertheless that he had flown home. He was by her side. One last time, to balance the equation. To care back.
And so it was that years of divisions beset with indifference and disappointment went up in smoke. Being cared for and caring back still existed.