My mother was a dog person who had a lifelong distrust of cats. Whenever the subject of cats came up, she would get a disgusted look on her face and tell us they could not be trusted. Then in the same solemn voice she used when she warned us not to talk to strangers, she would say, “The minute you turn your back on a cat, it will jump on the counter and lick the butter.”
Although we never left butter unattended on the counter or even knew anyone who did, this made perfect sense to us when we were young. I was always slightly horrified when we visited people who had cats and wondered what it was like to eat cat-licked butter on toast.
For most of the last decade of her life, mother lived with my brother. She had raised him right and he had two dogs, miniature Doberman Pinschers called Axle and Alexander. Mother was particularly fond of Axle, who followed her everywhere and was always sitting at her feet. She loved telling my brother that Axle loved her best.
The chair in the living room by the front window was mother’s favorite place to sit and read a book. Every day she would get up early, bring her book and a glass of milk and spend the morning reading. And Axle, her faithful companion, was always there at her feet.
One morning my brother was at the top of the stairs when mother set her book down to go to the bathroom. Axle stood up and watched her go. As soon as the bathroom door shut, he hopped on the ledge where she kept her glass of milk, stuck his snout in, and drank as much as he could. When he heard the toilet flush, he jumped down, licked his lips, and stood at attention, waiting for the one he loved best.
When mother came out of the bathroom, my brother was laughing so hard it took him a few minutes to explain what Axle had done.
I don’t know if mother ever got over that betrayal. She never bragged again about how much Axle loved her. And along with the butter, she never left her milk unattended again.