real life

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: The reality of loving a puppy after losing a dog.

It's too soon.

That's what I said to everyone who told me that the best way to get over the grief of losing a dog was to get a new puppy.

"We can't replace Elvi," I said. 

Elvi was (is) a part of our family, and we lost her only two months ago. She was (is) a boisterous, beautiful, brindle rescue staffy; her solid, velvety presence heavy next to us wherever we sat, at our heel wherever we went, always deliriously happy to see us, to leap on us, to kiss us and to wrestle us; always welcoming us home from the shortest of absences with a ridiculous toothy, tongue-lolling grin and a whirring, helicopter tail. 

Two months ago, Elvi went missing, and she died. 

We can never replace her.

So this then is not Elvi. This is Tuna. 

Meet our new puppy, Tuna. Image: Supplied.


I took the advice we shunned for a while and now, like many other dog people, we are learning about loving a puppy while grieving a dog.

Tuna is three months old. She's been living with our family for two weeks now. She is a rescue puppy, from the same organisation that found us our Elvi. They are called Fetching Dogs, and they found Tuna and her siblings in western NSW as tiny pups and placed them, as they do, in loving foster homes until they were old enough to be adopted out.

She is not Elvi. But she is amazing.

Because Elvi was missing for over a week before that devastating dusk when we retrieved her body from a local river, her death has been very public. Our family's community, both local and virtual, knew all about it. This was an enormous blessing when we were searching for her, but came with a side of almost-shame as we grieved for her. "I'm so sorry about your dog," everyone said to me, wherever I went, and I knew that many of those people, with their empathetic words, knew much greater losses.


But dog people get it. Elvi will forever be our first family dog. Our children will say her name when they are adults, sharing childhood stories with their people, as we do. The beloved pet who, one night, vanished from the garden and never came home.

We will never forget Elvi. Image: Supplied. 


So, no, she is not Elvi. 

As I write this, Tuna's sitting at my feet, concentrating with intense focus on shredding a stick that the children will soon trample through the house in a million tiny pieces.

Tuna's at that stage where everything must be explored with her mouth and her tiny needle teeth. Boots and slippers, obviously. Chair legs, of course. Cushions. Books. My finger. Billy's nose.   

There are puddles, and the occasional puppy poo on the carpet. Not many, but enough to remind you, Ah, that's right, this is the puppy life. The place a mess and shoes are no longer found in pairs.

But there is also a lightness back in our home. Silly voices, cooing to a little bundle who likes to play and loves to snuggle. Tuna, like Elvi, is a love bomb, wants to be on you, her head tucked in your neck, or lying on your knee, her eyes on yours.

There's a tiny super-soft head to kiss, and little side-plate-sized paws to sniff, and a warm body to curl into on the couch (yes, we're dog-on-the-couch people). There are exclamations of delight at being greeted at the door by a delirious puppy, ever more precious at the age my kids are approaching, where they are more likely otherwise to come in, drop their bags and grunt about snacks.

Tuna high-steps out a happy walk when something pleases her on her morning outing - a new smell, a scuttling leaf, a pebble she can present to you as a gift. She has a wild half hour at 9.30pm that seems unstoppable until she drops to her basket to sleep like the dead, save a few twitching, dreamy yelps. 


In short, she's exactly like a puppy. A whirling ball of chaos and joy.

And it's true, she is exactly what we needed.

Tuna is three months old. Image: Supplied.


Dog people know. We can't replace our family members. And sometimes, choosing Tuna feels like a betrayal.

Certainly, the first night we brought her home, our emotions were all over the place. We were simultaneously besotted and devastated. "I miss Elvi so much," my daughter told me, through just some of the many tears cried that day. "Me too," I said, and I did. This puppy was a stranger - a pint-sized adorable, very welcome stranger - but she wasn't our girl.

Tuna with the kids. Image: Supplied.


Tuna is becoming our girl, just a little bit more, every day. My partner Brent was perhaps the hardest to crack in those first few days. We'd all decided when Fetching Dogs told us there was the possibility of a puppy if we were ready, that we were. There was a dog-shaped hole in our lives, and what Elvi taught us was that we had a lot of love to give to a puppy who needed a home. We needed her; she needed us. It was a win-win. 

But Brent resisted Tuna's chocolate-eyed approaches on Days One and Two. For a moment in time, it seemed like the presence of a puppy didn't so much fill the hole that Elvi left, but threw it into sharp relief. For me, it also came with fear. What if we fall in love with this dog and something happens? Again. Can our little family stand more loss? 

But puppies have a way of winning, every time.

Now Tuna is becoming Brent's shadow, just as Elvi was, padding behind him around the house, lying at his feet while he works, coaxing out the gentle side of a big man with a fractured heart.

Brent and Tuna. Image: Supplied.


She's arrived with love to spare, and it's slowly spreading through our family like light. 

So let's raise a chew toy to dogs and dog people, to welcoming new bonds that build upon old ones. And here's to homing puppies who give as much as they get.

And here's to Elvi.

You can donate, volunteer, foster, or adopt through Fetching Dogs. We first discovered Fetching Dogs through Pet Rescue, here. 

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.