With most things you buy, you have a good idea what you're getting. But with some acquisitions -- and they're often the most important ones, such as houses, animals and marriage licences -- you have little or no idea what you're letting yourself in for.
In my time, I have indeed bought houses and marriage licences (two of each, as it turns out) but seldom have I made a blinder purchase than when I paid out €130 to the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) the other day for a puppy called Pipsi.
Pipsi is a golden-coloured little thing with pleading eyes and an expensive taste in footwear. My footwear.
On her first day with us, and I'm still not sure how this happened, she wangled her way into our affections. It was, as Donny Osmond might say, puppy love.
I had hoped (as I mentioned here the other week) that Pipsi would be a companion for our little girl and somehow complete our small family. And, in the early stages at least, it was all going to plan.
But all was not as it seemed. Pipsi began to retch and vomit. Her other end was fairly active too. My wife and daughter looked at me for guidance. "Just the stress of moving," I announced.
She had not improved by the next day. I began to question my diagnosis, and took her to the vet. Gastroenteritis, said Marta. "She needs to be kept in and put on a drip," she added. "She needs antibiotics too. She should be ok..."
Should? Should be ok? You mean, she might, might die? We'd had her for only 24 hours, yet she was already part of the family. I felt a familiar lump in my throat as we left. It was the same one I felt when I left my daughter in for her first day at school.
Two days and €210 later Pipsi was restored to full, bouncy, shoe-chewing health. Taken with the €250 I'd spent on food, a collar, lead, travel box, bedding and training cage, Pipsi's bills were mounting faster than a FAS hotel tab.
But I'd been warned about the initial cost. (I'd also been warned to take out pet insurance, but dithered about it.) These were what Donald Rumsfeld would call "known knowns".
There remained one great unknown about Pipsi. What kind of dog was she, exactly? The DSPCA lady described her as a terrier cross, but crossed with what? She just shrugged.
A friend had recently got a rescue dog from the DSPCA. Back then, she looked a lot like Pipsi. Now she has grown into a strange, elongated creature; a cross, her owners think, between a German Shepherd and a Dachshund. (Is that allowed?)
I am not, however, short on advice on the matter.
While out walking Pipsi, I am frequently engaged in conversation by other dog owners. "She'll be big," said a man at the garage this morning, "look at the size of her paws."
The owner of a chocolate-coloured labrador told me his own dog was about Pipsi's size at the same age.
A beagle owner reckoned Pipsi would be beagle-sized. I was afraid to canvass the opinion of the owner of an Irish wolfhound we met on the walk to school.
That was the other surprise about getting a dog. It's like gaining entry to a secret society. Members salute each other on the morning rounds. We stop to chat about doggy matters. We admire each other's animals, even when we don't like the look of them.
So far I've learned that beagles are great, but are genetically programmed to jump. "She'd have my dinner off the table in a flash," I was told.
Labradors are great family dogs and terriers are feisty little fellas. "They have that small-man complex," said one owner. "You know, like Charlie Haughey."
Back at home, the battle lines have been drawn up along predictable lines. "Not on the sofas, or upstairs, and in her cage every night," I said forcefully. "That's a bit stiff," said my wife. "I hate you," said my daughter. Pipsi just gave me the full doe-eyes treatment.
"You have to start as you mean to go on," I said. "That's what all the books say. Make your rules early -- and stick to them. That way, she won't get confused. Now where is she? Pipsi! Here Pips!"
"She's up here," called my daughter from upstairs. "On the sofa."