You know the youngest child must be out of nappies when you find yourself saying – un-ironically and without a hint of sarcasm – “We should get a pet.” A pet! Paul’s response was, of course, to ask whether we could get a monkey. Not a monkey, I said. “There was a monkey for sale in the pet shop when I was a kid,” Paul sighed, with real regret in his eyes. “Me and Craig Mail used to go and watch him wanking.” Not a monkey, I repeated. And not a dog or a cat or a guinea pig or a rabbit or a mouse or a pony or a horse or even a Shetland pony, on account of Ben’s spectacular allergies to animal hair.
I forgot about Ben’s animal-hair allergy last year. Tell a lie, I forgot about about his animal-hair allergy on TWO memorable occasions last year. The first, when we dog-sat a wonderful creature called Shandy (cue: midnight trip to A&E) and the second, when we went on a horse-drawn wagon tour of the wineries, and Ben wheezed all over the wagon driver and knocked over a table (cue: scrounging antihistamines off a waitress). No, Ben’s not one for the furry friends.
We did have a dog, once, when Ben was four. For reasons that I can’t explain, Ben wasn’t allergic to Barry the Frank, possibly because he wasn’t a dog, just a creature from the black fucking lagoon. Technically he was a Jack Russell crossed with a Poodle; in reality he was an objectionable, unlovable creature with a pus-filled tumour on the top of his head. The lesson here, I suppose, is to never take pity on a dog that’s being given away by a man in a pub the day after you get married – particularly if the dog looks rather like his owner, all scraggly, grey hair and weeping tumours.
Barry was called Frank when we got him from the man in the pub, which actually kind of suited him, but Ben – who was five at the time – wanted to call the dog Barry, after Grandad Barry, Paul’s dad. And because we felt bad renaming a dog in the prime of his life (ahem), he became “Barry the Frank”. And Barry the Frank he remained, until he left us for a “better place”.
We tried to love Barry the Frank, we really did, but it was close to impossible. Even dog lovers – you know, the ones who don’t understand why you’d have a child when you could have a dog – disliked Barry the Frank. They’d come round and be all, like, “Oh, I’m such a dog person, I’m not at all offended by the INCESSANT YAPPING and ARSE WIPING ON THE RUG,” but then he’d start humping their leg and wiping his weeping tumour on their crotch and they’d make their excuses and leave. If they didn’t straightaway, then they would after he’d pooed on their shoe and pissed on their trouser leg. THIS IS A TRUE STORY. He would actually sidle up to visitors and poo – if not directly on to their shoe, but right next to it. And one time, while talking to a school mum friend on the oval, he cocked his leg on her tights. Yes. He pissed on a school mum.
Barry the Frank was vile. He’d only sleep in the car, and he’d leave a big pile of poo in the garage most nights, just for Paul to step in when he left for work at 5.30 in the morning. He ran away constantly, leaving us to walk the streets shouting BARRY THE FRANK and CURSING OURSELVES for ever getting him micro-chipped. And, of course, he barked constantly and unrelentingly, for no actual reason.
When I was 36 weeks pregnant with Frankie I was put into hospital. With Paul working full-time, my mum and dad took Ben and Barry the Frank home with them. After a week of barking and shitting and weeing and running away (Barry the Frank, not Ben), mum rang me in hospital and asked: “Permission to get rid of Barry the Frank?” And because I could hear that bloody dog yapping in the background and could only imagine what I’d do to him if he yapped like that around my new baby, I said: “Permission granted.” We said no more, but left the matter in my dad’s capable (ruthless) hands. He took Barry the Frank to the RSPCA first of all. They took one look at him (Barry the Frank, not dad) and said “DEAR GOD, NO! WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT?” They actually did! Which left dad with no other option but the vet, and the kindest possible ending … which, as it turned out, wasn’t the green dream, but rather, the removal of Barry the Frank’s tumour and a new home, all for the very reasonable sum of $150.
That was four years ago, and we’ve been pet-free since then. It says a lot about the power of selective memory that we’re actively considering getting a pet now. In all honesty, Frankie thinks we already have a pet (a pet monkey. Called Ben. Hahahahahahha). Not really. He told his teacher we have a pet lizard called Eric. And yeah, I mean, there is a bobtail who comes into our garden, and we do call him Eric, but it’s a piss-poor excuse for a pet, and I don’t have any photos of the children frolicking with him – just of the time he got mashed up between the flyscreen and the sliding door in the laundry, and looked funny.
So go on then, keeping in mind Ben’s allergies, and my reluctance to clean up shit, what type of pet should we get, if at all? Answers on a postcard, please.