Last of the loves that dares not speak its name
Valentine's Day is 48 hours away, reminding me of my late father's good friend, who is also called Val. Especially as this loving man who loves life used to leave nothing but feel-good vibes in his wake - along with a trail of extravagant tips for hospital staff when he used to visit my father - who he also showered with sugary treats, knowing he had a ferocious sweet tooth.
And just as behind every great man there is a great woman, supporting this Val is an even more fabulous Valentina - or Imelda, to be precise.
This kind couple dog-sit their daughter's double-trouble of dastardly mutts while she's at work. They dote on those waggy-tailed terrors so much that if I didn't like them, I'd call them animal lovers.
For being labelled an animal lover can stigmatise you as imbalanced or queer, as my mother used to say, before the word was hijacked by hatred of homosexuality. Which is appropriate. Because even if the marriage referendum means cupid now cheerfully comes calling not just for Mr and Mrs, but also Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs, discrimination hasn't disappeared. Caring about other creatures is the last of the loves that dares not speak its name.
Why else do so many people use the qualifying clause "I'm not an animal lover, but"? Do they think it means you date donkeys? Or don't know that a dog is your best friend - not marriage material?
What's wrong with love that you would ever deny it? Did God say "like one another"? If love is extreme, what about hate?
Speaking of which, it's interesting that the antithesis - animal hater - doesn't exist. Instead, perhaps, we have hare coursing. As one profiting pundit gloated on RTE recently, there is never a downturn when it comes to those who enjoy watching little animals run in terror for their lives. With the law firmly on their side, thanks to all the major political parties in this country, animal lovers can like it or lump it.
Because apparently, loving animals is all very well for saints - including the one in whose honour our Pope is named. But let's not go too far and take it seriously.
Eamon O Cuiv encapsulated this fear of fellow feeling for our fellow creatures some years ago, when he warned that animal lovers wouldn't stop at banning blood sports. They'd push until - brace yourselves - we were all vegetarians. And where would that leaves us? Imagine the spectacle of all that... eh, lack of bloodshed.
But fear not - because Hitler was a vegetarian. And he wasn't exactly bursting with hippy-dippy peace and love. I'm sure if we did cut out animal exploitation entirely that we would still possess those killer instincts and aggression that causes so much devastation and conflict in the world.
Or would we?
You could find out by becoming a valiant Val and proudly declare yourself an animal lover.
And let Cupid lock cruelty in the closet.