We have had our beagle Benny for eight years now. You could say he was our first-born, a trial child with big ears, used to decide whether we were even capable of having more conventional children. And after our first night with him, you could argue that we weren't.
Benny, a Cantab and one of seven pups, had just been forcefully weaned from his mother in Christchurch and flown to Auckland in a cage.
All fairly traumatic for a pup just weeks old. But we had made a decision early on that tough love was what was required when he came into our home.
We made a bed for him in the wash-house and insisted that he spend his nights there in solitary confinement, at least until he was properly weaned.
We were warned that this wouldn't be easy, that he would wail and scream for nights on end - but we were not to give in under any circumstances.
That first night, the noise was like nothing I had ever heard before or since. My wife cracked early and was willing to release him, but I wasn't fooled so easily. Like the priest in The Exorcist, I stood my ground and Benny remained locked up.
It was only at about 2.30am, when lights began to switch on in neighbouring houses, that I considered releasing him. I can only assume that they thought we were running some sort of cat-strangling operation.
Begrudgingly, about 4am, I opened the door - but Benny was nowhere to be seen. After a brief investigation, I found him stuck upside-down behind the clothes-dryer. He had urinated all over himself and had a large weta perched on his head. It became apparent that he had probably been in that position from a few minutes after we first locked him in there, and this would certainly account for his enthusiastic yelping.
Cutting a long story short, a combination of wanting to get a good night's sleep, a visit from Neighbourhood Watch and a fair amount of guilt meant moments later he was snuggled up with us in our bed. He slept there for the next two years.
Benny has gone on to become an integral part of the family. With beagles, you have your fair share of issues, and they all seem to be food-related - whether it be eating a box of rat poison just for the taste hit or finding a way of dragging steaks off a hot barbecue.
But Benny is great with kids. Like a pickpocket, he can remove all manner of food from an unsuspecting child's hand without them noticing.
Over the years, I have considered many jobs for Benny, and even looked into sending him to the airport to be a drug dog. But I learned that as intelligent as beagles are, they are only used to sniff out food. All the narcotic boys are labradors. Benny subsequently failed the induction by humping a suitcase.
I never really saw Benny as a 9-to-5 kind of dog anyway, so I tried to get him an easier vocation, in TV. I pitched a show at all the major networks: it follows a psychic toddler who fights crime with his sidekick, Benny the beagle. Not surprisingly, the networks were interested, but in the financial climate we struggled to get the necessary funding. It is the sort of show that you either do properly or don't do at all.
I am now at the stage of getting Benny some adverts. Last week I enrolled him in a talent agency for gifted animals. I hope to secure a major sponsorship deal, perhaps from a pet-food company, or maybe a contract as the face of male canine vasectomies.
If you have an offer for Benny, please get in touch with me on Twitter at Leighhart70. Finances will be managed by me until Benny is 21.