GROWING up I didn't have a very good record on keeping pets.
An orphaned Merino lamb never survived the night after I washed it clean enough to wear a new "shabby-sheep" coat I had made using polyester-cotton and glitter pens.
Then my bantam chook got out of its cage while I was at netball training, only to become chicken dinner for our Kelpie.
The dog and I rarely spoke again!
So it was with some trepidation that, together with my husband, I picked out a labradoodle puppy from Gippsland almost 17-and-a-half years ago.
We named our curly-girl Polly and we hoped for the best.
The last of the litter to be picked up and the only one by car (the rest flew out to owners in Broome, Brisbane and Sydney), the breeders said Polly had spent her last night there indoors and was fond of pizza.
We were smart enough to know that pizza was a sometimes-food but Polly was smart enough to know that living indoors was non-negotiable.
Within those loose guidelines, we became a family.
We went everywhere together.
Then we even went to New Zealand, together.
When our first-born daughter arrived in Wellington in spring 2006, we even raised her together.
Always trying to keep up with Polly, our daughter was quick to crawl and up on her feet by 10 months; walking confidently a few days shy of 11 months. My Kiwi mum's group was blown away by the mobile Australian baby. I offered to loan them our dog!
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Always trying to keep up with Polly, our daughter was quick to crawl and up on her feet by 10 months; walking confidently a few days shy of 11 months.
My Kiwi mum's group was blown away by the mobile Australian baby.
I offered to loan them our dog!
Polly was the only one - human or otherwise - who could make our baby laugh out loud.
She bounced like a kangaroo when she wanted someone to throw her the ball, earning her the nickname Polly-Wallaby by our Kiwi circle of friends.
She had a sense of humour too; when walking around Thorndon village she always stopped to crap outside Helen Clark's home. Every time. (For the record, I liked the Prime Minister and, like all responsible pet owners, we always picked up after our dog.)
When we returned to Albury in late 2007 and had to renew our insurance policies, the NRMA operator, who had never met us before, wanted to know if we'd brought Polly home with us. You could say it was a case of Smallbury but we always knew that Polly was the better networker.
We added another daughter to the fold and before too long our eldest was walking Polly around the block, jabbering in their own language, "Poll-ish", of course.
This trio has grown up together as our bathroom door bears witness to; our girls got taller over the next few years and Polly hovered around 67 centimetres depending on the stage of her haircuts.
When the girls stayed home from school sick, the dog knew it was her job to snuggle up on the bed with them, all day.
During the national lockdown almost 12 months ago, Polly was torn between two bedrooms for the first time.
She'd check in for the Grade 4 Zoom chat first, then hop, skip and plie to my daughter's classical ballet online class across the hall before settling in the office with me. (The online flute lesson was hard going even for a dog whose hearing was failing. She only showed up once!)
When Polly turned 17 in pretty great shape just before Christmas, we couldn't believe our luck. With an average lifespan of 12-14 years for labradoodles, we thought we'd bucked the system.
When our dog's health slipped in the New Year, we cancelled our holiday plans and sat tight at home. We joked about being on Labradoodle Lockdown but none of us begrudged it.
Like you'd expect from a food writer's dog, she never once lost her appetite.
On Saturday morning she ate a hearty breakfast before we lost her two hours later.
But at 17, she still had good time to teach us everything we needed to know to live our best lives: love unconditionally, be in the moment, play often, be positive, eat well, exercise and bark only when necessary.
Well-played Polly, we'll miss you!
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