The ISPCA is running a novel campaign at the moment in an effort to raise awareness about animal welfare, appropriately named My Dog Ate It . A €2 donation will entitle a pupil to one free pass on a piece of their homework (excluding important course work). Interested schools can apply online or contact the ISPCA directly to receive a pack with everything needed to take part. Money raised will help rehabilitate abused and neglected animals in the ISPCA’s care.
At the moment, my wife and I are debating whether to bring an animal into our house. I would like to say that we have plenty of time to come to a decision on the matter, but there are other factors influencing the outcome. You see, my daughter has recently taken a rock as a pet. It’s hard and lumpy, as most rocks are, but it differs slightly in that it goes by the name “Mog”. She showed it to a friend in school, but this classmate doesn’t share my daughter’s belief that rocks can be kept as pets. They have since fallen out over the matter.
It’s not the first time the concept of a pet has come up in my house. Whenever something with fur or scales appears on the television, without fail, one of my daughters will ask, “Can we get one?”
I try to avoid the obvious excuses for not getting a pet, namely the mess and the excessive hair and the smell because, let’s be honest, I don’t want them thinking that these are good enough reasons to get rid of me when they hit their teens.
But I do point out that taking care of a pet requires work, patience and plenty of time.
“Dogs are not just for Christmas,” I said once.
“Emm,” my youngest daughter said, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow. “We’re getting a turkey for Christmas, Daddy. Remember?”
I’m still not sure if she thought we were getting a living turkey that year or whether she believed I was planning to eat a dog for Christmas lunch.
My wife recently commented on how the local rescue centres are always looking for people to adopt animals. I have looked at the ISPCA’s website, and it is easy to see how someone could warm to the idea. There is page after page of photographs of possible adoptees, various breeds, different characters, all abandoned or neglected, and most better able to strike a pose than I.
There are also the benefits of owning a pet to consider, especially for kids. Interaction can help teach compassion, respect and responsibility.
Sometimes they can even inspire confidence. I remember, growing up in Ballymun, there were a few small groups of youths who owned and cared for horses, shaggy old nags that loitered on random green spaces in the town.
“Eat and breathe those animals,” I overheard a neighbour say once. “Sure, they’d be nothing without their horses.”
Back then, I paid little mind to the statement, but now I think about those kids sometimes and I understand what my neighbour was getting at: that these lads would feel they were worth nothing if they didn’t have those horses.
Pets of my childhood
I never had a horse. But I did have a dog that acted like a cat. And my father drove a truck that resembled a tortoise. I don’t think that falls under the category of “pet” but I loved that truck so much I practically used it as a character in my debut novel.
A friend of mine, Alan, had a goldfish. One evening, Alan’s sister approached us, slumped shoulders, a frown and the news that the family fish had just passed away. About an hour later, Alan appeared and gleefully informed everyone that goldfish have “black guts”.
I’m not sure what happened with Alan and the fish in the hour after the animal’s death, and I’m not sure I want to know.
Smell Mullins and the bee
Although the ISPCA is turning the “my dog ate it” excuse into a positive, I still can’t help but be reminded of a lad from my old street whenever I hear it, a lad who was never shy about making up a story. This youth went by the nickname “Smell Mullins”, not because of any aroma-related problems, but because his nose naturally pointed toward the heavens, as if he was always trying to catch some foreign scent.
He was a boy who was constantly in the company of questions, and these questions generally followed the same pattern: (a) What are you doing? (b) Why are you doing it? (c) Can I have a shot when you’re finished?
Smell informed us once how he liked to keep bees as pets, claiming that he would lie in wait for them in the park, a collection of flowers beside him. And when a bee would land close enough, he would lasso it with a piece of thread.
Of course, nobody ever saw him walking around the place with a bee on a miniature lead, so the general consensus was that he was making the whole thing up.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was watching a documentary called Wild China , and in one scene, natives of a forest in China were luring hornets with a dead insect and then placing a tiny noose around the nearest hornet so that it would lead them to its nest.
The similarity between Smell’s story and the actions of these Chinese natives was too much to ignore. And this got me thinking: if Smell was telling the truth about the bees, then what else was he telling the truth about?
He told us once that he saw Mr T picking his nose outside Dunne Stores in the Ilac Centre. And he claimed that he had a trial for Manchester United under-10s.
I can’t help but wonder if a record of Smell Mullins’s dribbling skills is locked away somewhere in the Manchester United vaults. He also told us he was going to be the first person to breakdance on the moon. All I can say is: keep watching the skies.