Family members can come in all shapes and sizes – and species.

This is our beautiful dog, Bella. Unfortunately, Bella has terminal cancer and each day is a bonus. We had our third “Oh God, this is it” moment with her this morning. Luckily, for the third time, (and following a dose of big-time pain killers), she is much more comfortable and interested in the world again. But it reminded me, not for the first time, of just how important animals are in the lives of many families. For us, it is dogs.

I’ve grown up with dogs. It all started when I was three and I was petrified of them. Mum and Dad were so worried about it that they thought they really should get me a puppy. I still remember sitting on our front step in College Street, Balmain, waiting for Dad to come home: Mum said that he had a surprise for me.

I can still see Dad getting to our gate with his hand under his jacket. For some reason, my immediate thought was that he had a chocolate or something like that for me. And I can still see the smile on his face as he brought out the little black puppy. She was so beautiful. Dad sat with me on the step and gently placed her on my lap.

“Isn’t she lovely?” Dad was patting her and I had started to as well.

“She’s soft. Whose is she?” I was in awe of this tiny little black bundle.

“She’s yours.”

“Mine?” Really? Was this beautiful puppy mine?

Dad was smiling from ear to ear. His eyes used to light up when he smiled. “Yep. She’s yours. So you’ll have to give her a name.”

Thinking back now as an adult and a parent – that was a game move letting a three-year-old naming a dog. Luckily, I loved Comedy Capers with Penny Spence – and so I called her Penny.

I loved that dog. And she was so patient. I have a photo of me and Penny in my rocking horse somewhere …. well, I know where but it would take hours to get to it. She was such a good dog that, within a few months I was patting a German Shepherd while Mum was talking to her friend. I’ve been a ‘dog’ person since that day 50 years ago.

We moved from Sydney to Budgewoi on the Central Coast a couple of years later. Back then, it was like moving to the bush. Penny got a tick and died before we even realised what was happening, let alone do anything about it. My poor Mum had to tell me. It broke my heart to the point that Mum said: “No more.”

And then there was Trixie ……..

Top photo: Sharon Stokes Photography

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