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Need help in deciding who to vote for? Ask any shaggy dog down your street

Can I tell you something personal? Will you keep it to yourself? Being totally honest, at the age we are now, myself and the wife sort of felt we had had enough responsibility. The difficult years of early parenting were behind us. We'd been looking forward to retirement, doing a little travelling, catching up on our reading, perhaps one of us being given a seat in the Senate.

We had done our duty, to the best of our ability. Our era of night-feeds and sleepless dawns was over. No more teething or midnight anxieties, no more leafing through books of names, trying to make a good choice. Imagine our surprise when we learnt not too long ago that once again we'd be hearing the patter of tiny feet.

Well, in December the new arrival came, a little bundle of love. But I had mixed emotions, I admit it. I looked down at that tiny face in all its cuteness and aching vulnerability, its big soft eyes, its heart-rending expression, and as I listened to the frail and newborn whimper, I was filled with the thought: 'Why me?'

Yes. That's right. My children had bought a puppy.

It wasn't a very expensive puppy, but they'd taken the precaution of transferring it into our names for tax purposes, since that's what all the finest people in Ireland are doing these days and my children are dedicated followers of fashion. And they love that dog. They address it with the politeness and dutiful affection that their mother and I can only dream of one day receiving.

Recently, they even clubbed together their pocket money to buy it a selection of squeaky toys. And I've noticed an odd thing, which is that whenever a Fianna Fail politician appears on the TV news, the mutt goes crazy on that chew-toy and there is a veritable symphony of squeaking. I ask it how it thinks the Government front bench is looking. "Ruff," it answers, in a sympathetic way. Perhaps it is the last creature in Ireland who supports Fianna Fail. It's the love that dare not squeak its name.

When Enda Kenny appears, which hasn't happened a lot lately, an even stranger thing takes place. The pooch stares at the screen with its tiny jaws open, ears pricked erect, and then it begins to snarl. I am very worried in case the forthcoming election brings a plethora of Fine Gael literature in the post, emblazoned with the pleasing image of the dear leader's George Bush-style good looks.

Eamon Gilmore seems to induce no reaction whatsoever, except maybe the tiniest stare of doggy disbelief.

When it isn't squeaking or yapping, it tends to bite, as a means of displaying its affection and loyalty. And, sadly for me, I am often the target. But you get used to it. I have slowly become accustomed to walking around the house with the dog clamped to my leg, more like an item of unusual fashion in a Lady Gaga video than an actual living animal. It clings on to me, desperate for power to the very last -- I resist the obvious joke -- as intensely as Vincent Browne to a worried junior minister. I have taken phone calls with it chewing the hems of my trousers, and eaten dinner while it was affectionately air-conditioning my shoes with its teeth.

I enter the room, and it jumps all over me. I awake with it staring at me lovingly from across the pillow. You manage to forget it for an hour or two and then suddenly it bites.

In that sense, it's a bit like love, or the current Government.

Dog ownership seemed the last milestone on the road to middle age, like complaining about the pop music enjoyed by young people these days or having alcohol undrunk in the house. But now that it has arrived, I don't really mind. Turns out man's best friend may not be Enda Kenny, after all.



Joseph O'Connor's Wednesday radio diary is broadcast on RTE One's 'Drivetime with Mary Wilson'

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