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Coming home twice a year means that I meet new pets virtually before in actual reality. I had met Groucho several times on Skype before I had the pleasure in person: L’il Sis would hoist him up in front of the camera like one might a newborn baby. Except Groucho is not a newborn nor is he the size of a baby, rather he is a fairly good medium-sized dog. Not the sort of sized creature you might hoist casually in front of a camera. But it appears the dog prefers this. He prefers to be cuddled and swaddled and stroked and hugged and generally bothered. Constantly.

When L’il Sis and her b/f kindly fetched me up at the airport, Groucho was of course in the car as well. In the front seat, obviously, wedged in next to or on top of (it’s hard to tell) the b/f. This seemed natural to everyone in the car. When it became clear that Groucho was becoming uncomfortable to share with, we tried to shuffle him around, but to no avail. He was comfortable and thus everyone else must be subordinate to this need.

I am no stranger to deferring to dogs (or other pets, but mostly dogs) in any and all home-related situations. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that four-legged guests rate higher at The Mom’s. This is due in no small part because they are more willing to entertain than perhaps the rest of us might be. You can generally count on a dog – even one of our ill-trained beasts – to have at least one trick up its sleeve, a trick that will demonstrate how ridiculously cute said dog is.

Groucho is already miles ahead at this because he’s a bit bent and busted himself. Missing part of his one ear, front leg twisted around, bit of a limp – The Mom was powerless against his many charms. So now all he has to do is turn up and she’s over the moon with delight.

The Mom is right in that it used to be me who received the hero’s welcome, but now me living away isn’t really news as it’s been going on for over ten years, and anyway the dogs are always in a better humour – nobody’s fun after a transatlantic flight.

And a dog – Groucho in particular – will respond to The Mom’s set-ups in a way that I no longer have the energy for. She’ll want him to do all his best tricks and he has no shame in complying. When The Mom takes me out to meet her friends for tea or a drink she gets put out when I don’t perform on command as well as the dog does. If I won’t tell the story the same way I told it to her, or if I don’t do the funny impression the same way I did on the internet the week previous – these are the sorts of thing a dog can be counted on to perform day after day. A human, not so much. But then the dog has more at stake – I have opposable thumbs and can get my own dinner. The dog, not so much.

The dog, Groucho in particular, is also good at making The Mom feel extra important: she knows we can all fend for ourselves, and likes a sidekick that has to depend on her a bit. She likes being needed, and let me tell you, Groucho enjoys helping her feel needed and entertained. Which is just as well because after a long flight I’m not really up for much, so it’s a good job Groucho can take one for the team.

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