I was walking down the street in Punta del Diablo one morning and passed a dog without giving it any notice. I suddenly felt him hop up on my leg a little in a way that was so amazingly clear, amazingly communicative, as if to say “Hey! It’s me! Remember?,” in the same way someone might tap you on the shoulder. I looked back and he was wagging, smiling and I did recognize him as the dog that had been hanging around our house, that we fed every-once-in-a-while. He’d lay under Azure’s chair while she was reading and outside our door when – probably – he was bored.
The day before I had gotten spooked by a guy I thought was following us in the town. Turns out he was just weird, we think, and not a threat, but it occurred to me I should feed the dog more often so he would become loyal, protective of us so that if something did happen with the guy or any other guy, he’d be there for us.
It makes sense that it’s an agreement, an exchange, a relationship. We’re used to money-based exchanges so I didn’t register this as a non-monetary exchange because one party appeared to be begging for food. But when I looked at him that morning he didn’t have the ashamed, deferent look of someone who takes whatever he can get without giving back – he looked like someone I’d established a relationship with, a business partner with whom I’d dealt honestly. It was not begging, it was a trade, and he’d already been keeping his end of the bargain. I just hadn’t realized it.
I indicated that I remembered him and he should follow me on my walk – I was going to take pictures at our rock – so he came along and hung out for a while. He followed me back to our house and laid down on the patio (never crossing in) while I ate breakfast. At the end of breakfast I enforced the exchange by grabbing the prior night’s leftovers and put them outside for him.
The exchange was our food – which we recognize as a commodity and vaguely as currency – for his time and protection. Not all animals can protect but every single animal has time. It’s the one resource every being is given equally and will continue to have throughout its life. We’ve traded away our share for other commodities, and we work hard in life so someday we might be rich enough to have it again.
Over the next few days the dog would show up on the porch at dinner time or we’d see him in town and he’d hang out with us for a while. There was one day of drama when another dog – one that looked like Lassie – was curious about us and our dog was really standoffish. The Lassie dog made friends with our dog, but I didn’t want any part of the new relationship (not much different than I am with humans) because I wanted to show our dog that I was loyal to him.
It only makes sense in developing any kind of relationship with any animal that time-given will be a major component of it. It’s a gift, the only gift that we recognize as a commodity that can actually be given by someone with no material possessions.
We never got to say goodbye to that dog, but we’re pretty sure he’ll be ok without us. It’s a tourist town and the dogs are probably just as used to the 1-week relationships as the grocers are, and are probably just as hardened by it. Mid-way through the week we saw him hanging out at another little house, getting scraps from another couple. I wonder how many of those relationships he’s developed.
That’s him on the morning he hopped on me. He thought he was majestic.