After losing our family dogs, we couldn’t bear more grief. Then Covid brought puppy love back into our lives | Maddie Thomas

Two years ago, when my family dog died, it marked the end of an era.

There were no scuttling feet and a sniff to greet me when I came home to visit and no companion for my parents to go on walks with.

We have had a dog for as long as I can remember. When I was young, we had a large airedale terrier, Tess, who looked up at me in my pram and was my parent’s first pet together, likely a test run for their ability to parent a future child.

When I was seven, I got my own puppy, Lily. A neurotic vizsla, Lily lived up to the nickname of the breed as a “velcro dog”. She had to be on top of you, hitting you with her strong tail, which she made bleed on several occasions from slapping it too hard against the brick wall in excitement.

Maddie with her dog Lily.

A few years later, we thought Lily should have a sibling, and along came Bella, another airedale. Slightly suspicious that Lily might have become an anxious dog as a result of her trip to us by plane, we drove to Lilydale just outside Melbourne to pick Bella up instead.

Unsurprisingly, Lily was not impressed by the new addition to the family she was used to having to herself. Until old age, when her signature copper coat started to go grey, she wanted little to do with her. Bella, on the other hand, initially ignored us but was obsessed with her fellow four-legged friend.

Bella and Maddie’s Dad on a picnic.
Bella and Maddie’s dad on a picnic.

Losing a pet leaves a gaping hole. I grew up with these dogs; they are part of so many memories and they brought us a lot of joy and comfort. The passing of both Lily and Bella was fairly traumatic, making it hard for my parents to imagine ever going through that kind of grief again. When Bella died in 2020, my loss was only compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get home to say goodbye because of Covid travel restrictions.

But Covid, as it happens, has recently brought dogs back into our lives.

My dad, now retired, has developed a habit of filling up his phone with apps that may or may not be innovative and useful. The latest discovery is a community app that connects neighbours online – helping to find a local tradie, the best garage sales in the area or make new friends. Over Easter, he saw a post from a local couple, stuck at home with Covid, with two dogs who were desperate to go for walkies, an hour a day until they were out of isolation.

We picked up the dogs that afternoon, Marley and Jack. A month later, the couple went away for a long weekend, and we had the dogs stay with us.

We went to the park and threw balls for them to chase, took them with us for our morning coffee, and, when it was time for bed, they were quick to curl up next to me. They infected my parents with a kind of childlike joy.

Marley and Jack.
Marley and Jack.

A border collie cross poodle and an Australian shepherd cross poodle, Marley and Jack are beautiful dogs. They love to be near you and each other. One loves a tummy rub and the other will barely roll over, but makes it known he’d like a head scratch if his sibling is getting too much attention. More than anything, they have taken me back to a time when our life was punctuated (and ruled) by walks, treats and getting up to let them in and out. They have brought a smile to the faces of my parents that I now realise is unique to puppy love. It is certainly aiding my repeated request that they get another dog to see them through this next chapter of their life.

It is of course nice to have your cake and eat it too: Marley and Jack go home to their owners after their visits and we don’t have to worry about what kennel they go to when we’re on holidays or whether they’ll be lonely when we’re out. But I do think it proves one thing. There is no substitute for the kind of uninhibited joy dogs bring. It makes me want to travel home whenever they’re around.

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