"MOLLY'S a good dog," announces my wife indulgently, to no one in particular.
I examine the creature luxuriating in a basket in a corner of the kitchen, four paws in the air, legs akimbo, like the bizarre centrefold of a magazine for canine males: 'Molly -- single, brown hair, 2ft 1in; hobbies include 'walk', 'snack', 'ball', 'beach' and ''paw' . . .
"It's unseemly, Molly," I mutter affectionately. She wriggles on her back, then snorts, one lip peeling away from an upside-down muzzle and hanging mid-air, revealing teeth worn from years building vast cairns of drool-drenched rocks, each painstakingly excavated from our nearby beach.
"What IS she like?" I say. Because, in truth, while words such as 'demented', even 'downright bonkers', are often more befitting our seventh family member; 'good' may well be stretching things considerably.
Molly regards me with one crazy, white-rimmed eyeball as I conjure up images of her belting over the dunes, merrily trailing streamers of phlegm, like some sort of furry ballistic missile as toddlers shriek and dive for cover; or parading across someone's family picnic, head festooned with the reeking entrails of the dead seabird she's wallowed in.
Or the way she'll perch inside our front window for ages, murmuring impatiently to herself in dog-speak, until the postman finally arrives, then go so berserk that the glass actually ends up opaque from snot trails, some terrifyingly high. "Did the 'burglar' leave anything today?" one of the children will chuckle as Molly trots back into the kitchen, sneezing proudly.
"She's not good," I finally decide. "She's great. She's the very best of dogs. Ever."
All the attention today is down to her being due at the vet for surgery to have a lump removed from her front leg, an expedition which, given her exuberant demeanour, is something we've been putting off.
"She'll be as good as new by the time you're all home from school," my wife explains while we lavish her with farewells. As if on cue, Molly launches herself like a rocket down the hall and attacks the front window one last time as the letterbox clatters. "Well, as good as she ever was," I snicker.
She's brought straight to the vet from the school drop-off. I stay to man the fort but, more than once, find myself pacing despondently like a relative waiting in the corridor of a hospital drama.
It hits me how much of a companion Molly really is. The house seems just an empty shell without our ordinarily-omnipresent family member always skirting ahead to manoeuvre herself between us and any given door; struggling to be let out, then turning around and barking to be let right back in.
And each time I distract myself with some mundane household chore, I think I see her from the corner of my eye, but there's only an empty basket, an abandoned ball or squeaky toy, an unbearable silence.
My wife is back within the hour carrying only a limp leash. "She seemed happy enough," she says. "They've scheduled her surgery for noon. We can collect her when she wakes up later."
We go for our morning stroll along the beach, the two of us alone, but our heart isn't in it. There barely seems any point. Both of us catch ourselves continuously looking around for a zigzagging blur of fur.
Everyone is waiting by the time Molly wobbles back into the kitchen, still groggy, a row of neat stitches on her foreleg and a huge plastic cone on her head like the hapless hairy hero in Disney/Pixar movie Up (inset).
"Oh no," notices our middle teen. "Not the Cone of Shame!"
"It's to stop her chewing her stitches," I explain as the dog bashes it on a door frame then miserably drags a chair out from under the table after becoming snagged on it.
"I think it's going to be a long two weeks," rues our little girl, giving Molly a gentle squeeze.
"She looks like the queen from Alice in Wonderland," notes our eldest.
The dog gazes up balefully from inside her funnel, like a giant plastic ice-cream cone with a big furry Flake bar lodged in the middle, then gives her tail a brief, encouraging shake.
"She's the queen of FARTS," says my wife and we all giggle, but then conspire not to make her feel self-conscious anymore. "She's Elizabethan," coos our youngest. "She's Shakespeare," observes her brother.
In fact, we all quickly become quite used to the dog's great, cumbersome, conical plastic cranium. It has its uses too, finds Molly: as a floor scoop -- like a Hoover attachment -- for wayward kitchen scraps; and as a bullhorn to amplify the explosive spasms of rage whenever her favourite 'burglar' comes calling.
By the time the stitches are due to be taken out, she seems quite adept at getting around with the thing -- though by then, it's so bashed up, it looks like little more than a filthy, ragged ruffle.
"Somehow, I don't think they'll be able to recycle it," says my wife arriving home with Molly in tow.
The dog turns to look then winces as her bare nose bashes off a book shelf.
"She may have to get used to not having a protective helmet anymore," says one of the boys.
"Poor Molly," says our little girl, but then the doorbell rings and a furry missile launches itself from her arms, skittering across the kitchen floor in a familiar cacophony of hysterical howling.
"Honestly?" I say, "I think she's already forgotten about the whole sorry affair."