It started with a phone call to the local parish priest. “I hear you’ve a pup for sale Father,” says I, with Herself standing beside me trying to ear-wig in on the conversation.
“I do indeed Darragh. Immaculate breeding. I’ve the mother and father up here at the parochial house. You’re welcome to visit anytime. Her brother is already gone and I was going to put her up online in the next day or so,” he replied.
Herself was already doing a jig in excitement beside me and I knew full well how this was going to end.
A few days later, Elmgrove Ellie arrived in her new home. A 10-week-old pedigree German shepherd with a fluffier than standard coat and over-sized paws that she didn’t really seem to be in full control of.
I grew up in a house that always had a dog of one sort or another. An over-active collie, a hare-brained Airedale terrier, and a few long-haired German shepherds.
But in my memory, they all lived outside in the washroom, where if they peed or pooped, it was their own lookout and they were generally left to their own devices from one day to the next.
Boy, have the times changed! I was forbidden to collect the dog before we had purchased at least five toys, each designed to stimulate a different part of the dog’s brain.
Then special doggy cushions arrived, along with water bowls, combs and collars.
“These are just to get her settled in. I’ve and collar with her name and contact number arriving next week,” I was informed.
The thought there are children born with less to their names occurred to me, but I decided to hold my counsel. A week later, Ellie had her own Instagram page, and was ruling the roost like she owned the gaff.
In fairness to her, she’s a fast learner. We wanted her to be house-trained so she could sleep downstairs at night. This basically involved the pair of us taking turns to sleep downstairs on the couch with Ellie beside us in her little crate for the first week.
Anytime there was a rustle out of her, it was straight out the side door to do a pee, and we quickly figured out that a poop was easily engineered in a walk last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
The rustling evaporated by about day seven, and within a few more days, she was quite content sleeping locked up in her crate by herself.
Of course, she’s a magnet for attention anywhere we take her, and walks have turned into lengthy affairs in terms of time more so than distance.
Everyone has to do a little rub and give us their tuppence-ha’penny’s worth of advice.
“She’s cute now but make sure she knows who’s boss when she gets older!” the men warn. “Oh, she’s so cute. Is she vaccinated yet?” the practical women ask. “Oh, she’s adorable, can we take her home?” the more excitable insist.
Despite the outlay on bits and bobs already, a farming friend warned me we were only getting started. He reckoned his last dog cost the insurance company the guts of €30,000 in vet fees and prescription drugs.
I don’t know how I feel about that. On one hand, it seems morally wrong to be spending that much on a pet when there’s so much desperate want in the world.
On the flip side, I can already appreciate the joy that our pup has brought into our lives, but the more you think about it, the deeper this rabbit hole gets.
If we can legitimise spending so much on our pets’ health, why do we baulk at the notion of having to call the vet to save a sick lamb, piglet or chick?
Maybe the ferocious debate about the merits of livestock farming in an over-heating world will be extended to pets in the coming years as we continue to reassess animals’ rights.
For now, I’m going to concentrate on ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘walkies’.
Darragh McCullough runs a mixed farm enterprise in Meath, elmgrovefarm.ie.