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A surprising sub-plot of the Afghan crisis was the effort to evacuate an animal sanctuary. The British owner of the Kabul pet sanctuary was accused of valuing pets over human lives. But places were found for 150 dogs and cats on humanitarian flights. It seemed a typically eccentric English thing.

The significance of the restriction on pets moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement also went over my head slightly.

I had never had a pet in my life as my mother was, and is, afraid of dogs.

When I was Minister for Children, the ‘Growing up in Ireland’ survey included ‘pet ownership’ as an indicator of the happiness of the nation’s children for the first time.

At the time, it meant very little to me. I regularly quoted Churchill to dog owners. Churchill apparently didn’t like dogs because they looked up to humans, and didn’t like cats because they looked down on humans. That’s why he kept pigs - they treated us as equals.

Dogs are more pampered these days; old phrases like ‘the dogs on the street’ would be meaningless to a younger generation. Apart from farm dogs, most dogs are very much indoor animals these days.

It seemed strange to me that owners talked about their dogs as if they had a genuinely astonishing personality different to the personality of every other dog.

However, all of this changed when we made the decision to get a dog, like many other people, during lockdown.

Falling for the dog was a slow process. It’s like when you are asked how you became bankrupt; “slowly at first, and then all of a sudden.”

Dexter was born in September 2020 to breeders in Co. Wicklow. We picked him up one Saturday afternoon and my second son cradled him carefully in his lap on the trip home.

Neighbours and relatives were around to see him arrive in the driveway.

At first, I found the whole process ludicrous. Our three children were now old enough to be more or less self-cleaning. But now, we could hear the dog crying in the middle of the night and had to tend to his needs and the many puddles on the kitchen floor.

But he started getting the idea and peed in the garden regularly. Only problem was that I now had a number of yellow patches on a lawn that I had carefully manicured over the years. As the months went by he took to digging up a few holes for himself and chewing on what might otherwise have been prize dahlias, gladioli and any other low growing foliage.

But I worked with it and assured myself that as he got older he’d be less crazy.

The naming of the dog was contentious. Years earlier, my father-in-law brought back a large toy leopard from a farmers’ market one time and for some reason he was called Dexter. This was the inspiration, if that’s not too strong a word for it, for naming the puppy Dexter.

It was vaguely in the back of my mind that there was a programme on TV called Dexter. Subsequently, we found out that the character of that name is a homicidal maniac which I considered vaguely fitting.

The kids loved the dog, although not to the extent of actually taking him for a walk. The kids liked to play with him on the kitchen floor or have him on their beds at night before going to sleep.

But sadly, this story is not a happy one.

He had no road sense and had always been a flight-risk. While on holidays in Waterford, he ran out the front door and was hit by a passing car. He died instantly and we buried him in a field under a whitethorn tree.

Of course it’s only a dog but the grief was overwhelming.

We still had a week left of our holiday but the kids just wanted to go home. Tidying away the bits and pieces in the house was not easy.

It all makes sense to me now. Perhaps we see in them a version of our better selves; loyal, protective and affectionate.

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