Molly, our very dear, disastrous dog
IT'S the evening before our family dog Molly's eleventh birthday, an occasion which, I suspect, will be celebrated by the smelly, moulting, much-loved seventh family member with inimitable style.
She'll fling herself at the front window in a slobbering fit of rage at the postman, then trot around in triumph with a toy that looks like something a council worker has pried off the road.
This, no doubt, to be followed by a walk on the beach, a short swim and a roll through the entrails of something dead before ignoring all verbal commands and running off to find someone having breakfast on a bench, so she can squat in front of them and strain until they can see the whites of her eyes.
After profuse apologies, we will bag the evidence and wince for a mile to the nearest bin, as she'll have invariably chosen a spot as far away as possible, during which we will no doubt meet and have to converse with everyone we know, bag in hand, as she chokes down stalks of grass nearby, coughing and gagging as we desperately try to pry ourselves away.
In short, it'll be a day like any other in the little over one ignominious decade, or 57 dog years, during which Molly has been an endless source of embarrassment, consternation. . . and immeasurable pleasure.
It's been, I realise, an eleven-year Marley and Me misadventure, as the family gathers on the evening before the annual pyramid of sausages to be topped with a birthday candle before being wolfed down and later regurgitated wrapped in a little parcel of straw onto the kitchen mat.
Truth be told, next to Molly, famous movie dog Marley was a model of canine propriety.
"What are we doing?" asks the youngest, last to arrive in the door to where we're all now draped over furniture, busily swiping iPhone screens.
"We're thinking about getting another dog," says my wife, scrolling through pages."Why?" she says, a little worried.
"Just because Molly is getting older," explains my wife, "and if we ever want to get another dog, which we do, to keep her company, we should do it while she has the energy to help train her."
"You know," I chuckle dryly, "how to terrorise leaflet deliverers, or wedge a wet nose into the crotch of a dinner guest, or dig a massive hole in the garden and bury a piece of bread that's been left out for the birds, until it's just rotten enough to drag back into the house - all the things she does so well."
On cue, Molly trots in with the slobbery remains of what may once have been a tennis ball. It falls out of her mouth, rolls under the sofa and she plops down, head on paws and begins noisily mourning the fact.
"Hmm," sighs my wife. "It's true, she's not exactly the best-behaved dog in the world."
"But she IS clever," insists the youngest. "She can sit AND give her paw."
"She can," agrees my wife.
In fact, these two tricks, painstakingly taught with dog chews so that whenever you tell her to sit she drools like a fountain, are about the limit of her repertoire.
"She knows quite a lot of words," pipes in the middle teen.
What she knows is 'walk', 'beach', 'ball', 'toy', 'snack', 'cat', 'birds', 'dinner' and 'bath', all of which trigger the same response, a frenzy of deafening barking - except for 'bath'. Drop the word 'bath' into conversation, as in 'Remember those Eircom shares?' 'Oh yeah, we took a bath on those', and Molly will go missing for hours, only to be found shivering pathetically, head shoehorned under a bookshelf and bottom tucked so far between her legs that she looks like half a dog.
"She never quite understood 'fetching' either," observes the eldest.
"Not quite," I say. 'Fetch' is a command that Molly seems to understand as 'carry off somewhere and lose', something she performs with aplomb; tennis balls, squeaky toys, rubber bones or anything resembling a leash that she can get her teeth on and dart out the door and across the green with.
Somewhere in the grass verges of our estate is a treasure trove of pet toys that, in the unlikely event of them ever being recovered, someone could open a small shop.
"So, what sort of dog do we think we should get?" says my wife.
The eldest hands me a YouTube video of a dog running around that looks like a slightly shaggier, differently coloured version of ours. It careers into a hedge, prompting an explosion of birds. The middle teen has already short-listed a number of winsome, rescue mongrels with rather familiar, dumb and quizzical looks on their big, wide-eyed, slobbery faces.
"I think we should get a dog just like Molly," says the youngest.
"That might be difficult," deadpans my wife as, hearing her name, said mutt pads back in with some filthy furry toy that looks like it has been run over and dragged by a bin lorry, draped over her maw.
"Perhaps Molly could train the new dog to be just like her," says the middle teen.
"You know what?" I grin. "I think it's unavoidable."