Tales of Teddy

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Teddy’s Tales: A Big Brave Boy

We were just relaxing and feeling happy that Teddy’s cruciate ligament injury was on the mend, when last week we noticed a lump on his upper lip. It didn’t look like a bite, more like a pink swelling on the black skin of his lip. Weird. We took him to our excellent vet. They gave him a course of steroids and cream and told us to keep an eye on things. Schnauzers do get lumps and bumps and often they are harmless but they need to be watched. Within a few days the lump had grown to twice the size. Ted was quickly booked in for an operation to remove it. When the pathology has been done, we’ll hear whether the mass is benign or not.
We took him in for his procedure this morning. While he is under, they will also x-ray his troublesome leg – so we can know the extent of the cruciate ligament injury in case of any later flare-ups – and quickly polish his teeth (might as well make the most of the situation).
Poor Ted. However lovely your vet – and they are indeed a lovely, calm bunch at The Strand Veterinarian – it’s a disquieting experience. But the unfamiliar smells, bright lights and other pets visiting didn’t seem to unduly bother Teddy this morning. In fact the stoic little character went away with his nurse without any fuss. I, on the other hand, did rather madly ask how many dogs had died under anaesthetic at the practise. Answer: none. I’ve spent the day, mobile phone to hand, doing an awful lot of distraction baking. Ted’s a big brave boy. Must follow his lead. Chocolate-chip cookie or banana bread, anyone?

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Teddy’s Tales: Tales of Teddy’s New Zealand Debut

Last Saturday, Teddy and I took up our positions in our new favourite shop. Teddy did some discreet promotional work, modelling a conker brown Better Dog Collar and Better Rope Lead, while I happily stood by a Tales of Teddy window display, hoping to meet some chatty, interested customers.

We had been invited to make our New Zealand debut with an in-store pop-up of Tales of Teddy goods at Passion for Paper, a very smart stationery shop that’s the kind of place I love to discover when I go abroad. This treasure trove has been established in Parnell for over twenty years. Inspired by a love of the best Italian stationery, proprietor Kim Helas has woven a theme throughout that combines quality, charm and more than a hint of old-world style. Beautiful wrapping papers hang from wooden ladders on the walls, overlapping like decadent wallpaper. Sealing wax, rubber stamps and notebooks are tucked alongside letterpress cards with delicate raw edges, book plates, gift tags, quills, nibs and inks – it’s a stationery dream! And then there’s the cabinet full of my all-time favourite scented goods from Santa Maria Novella, the Florentine brand that I used to buy in Piccadilly, London, which I can now find on my doorstep in Auckland.

So, Passion for Paper has all of the above along with the added bonus that Kim is an avid dog-lover. Which is where our pop-up comes in. Whenever I’m in her store we talk dogs. Kim has Sky, a rescue from the SPCA, whom she adores. To help benefit a worthy charity and to celebrate Chinese Year of the Dog, Kim invited Tales of Teddy to debut at Passion for Paper (goods will be available until Sunday 4th March and Teddy and I are set to visit each Saturday until then), giving a percentage of profits to the SPCA.

During his day on the shop floor, Ted received much admiration and settled into his ambassadorial role like a duck to water (or rather, like a dog to a rug – he simply lay down and turned on the soulful-eye routine when he fancied an extra pat). I got what I’d hoped for: I met lots of interested customers and talked to lots of interesting people. Our first sale of this British brand was to a British couple living here, who fancied a conker Better Dog Collar for their Wheaten Terrier – I think it reminded them of home. I talked with a Funeral Director (“My friends hate my job!”) on her way to the Queen concert who had her eye on the Better Rope Lead for the Schnoodle that she wants to get this year. But perhaps my favourite conversation of the day was with a woman admiring one of the Better Dog Blankets. “Do you have a dog?” I asked. “No,” she said, from beneath her fringe. Then she fixed me with a look: “But I never met a chicken I didn’t like.” She whipped out her cell phone and proceeded to take me on a photographic tour of her glass chicken collection. A day well spent. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow.

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Teddy’s Tales: a dog with a (very) sore paw

I’ve always thought that Ted has a high pain threshold. Whenever we’ve been at the vet and they’ve gently warned that whatever they are about to do Ted ‘might not like’ (which I take as code for, ‘I hope he doesn’t nip me’), Ted just stands stoically and takes it. He rarely flinches, the most he’ll do is give a disinterested look.

So after Christmas, when he started limping, it was cause for quick concern. Was it a grass seed? I know two dogs who have suffered when one of these dart-shaped devils has worked its way into a paw and up the leg. As we had just returned from exploring New Zealand’s Coromandel, home of the Hobbits and where some of the most lush green hills meet spectacular beaches, this seemed a likely scenario. Although we regularly check Ted’s paws and keep the fur around them groomed short, Ted had been having a wild old time zooming about in the long grass.

We headed to the vet but they didn’t think it was grass seeds. After taking a thorough history of the complaint (he holds his back paw and limps for a bit after getting up and finds it hard to stretch), noting what he had been doing recently (zooming about on beaches and hills, chasing balls) and having done some careful bending and stretching of Ted’s hindquarters, the vet pronounced a suspected cruciate ligament injury. Apparently it’s one of the most common dog injuries, often induced by chasing balls, and all the quick about-turns and fancy footwork that make doing it such fun for Ted.

He was given a course of beef-flavoured anti-inflammatories (brilliant – unsurprisingly there was none of the usual hassle about getting him to take it) and a short session of laser therapy to help kickstart the healing process. We were also asked to keep him on the lead with no running about or ball chasing, ‘until things settle down’. This wasn’t as hard as it sounded at first. We’ve been having crazy high humidity for the last month or so, it wasn’t exactly weather for dashing about in.

Of course, since this diagnosis people have told me about their dogs with cruciate ligament injuries. While the vet mentioned the various options available for Ted, from the relatively gentle approach that we were starting with, to physiotherapy and potentially surgery if this all doesn’t work, I was interested to hear about dogs with this condition. “Don’t rush into surgery,” warned my neighbour the nurse (who has known her share of human cruciate ligament injuries, too). Two of her friend’s dogs have gone through the trauma of surgery and not been cured afterwards. A message on social media championed laser therapy. Another said the condition settled in her dog eventually, but it took 9 months.

So, as long as things don’t deteriorate, it seems like we’ll be in it for the long haul. He’s on a course of  laser therapy. We might investigate physiotherapy if need be. Someone else suggested acupuncture. We’ll see how he goes, head out on shorter strolls rather than longer rambles and continue his on-lead confinement. It’s going to be a bind for Ted. I sometimes think his reason for being is to chase balls.

In the meantime, we’ll make more of his static wrestling with his (expanding) collection of furry toys. He’s getting good at batting a ball back and forth to me with his paw while he’s lying down – it’s a bit like playing table football. Add in some new training tricks and we’ll do our best to exercise his mind and keep his body on track, too.

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Teddy Loves: Fat Lama

fat lama www.talesofteddy.com

I’ve discovered a new website that chimes nicely with our New Zealand adventure and it’s worth sharing with fellow dog-owners. Fat Lama – described as ‘Airbnb for stuff’ – launched in the UK in 2016. It’s a website that helps you rent out your things and make a little return on your goods. I like it in a way that I might not have had I not been here.

There’s a make-do-and-mend culture in New Zealand. People aren’t quick to chuck things out – no doubt the knock-on effect of being miles from anywhere – and they are only too happy to lend their stuff. In fact, I’d say that lending is a way of life.

In the past month we’ve taken up various kind offers: garden secateurs, a chilly bin, kayaks, sailing kit and even the use of a swimming pool. Typically English, at first I was reticent to accept. I hate the thought of breaking something or damaging someone’s prized this or that. But I’ve relaxed. It’s a two-way street and it makes everyone feel good.

While Kiwi resourcefulness and generosity is a friendly way of paying it forward, Fat Lama is a business and money changes hands. Still, the fees are not exorbitant, and there’s a similar feel good factor on both sides: the lender can be pleased that they are making unused goods pay (and freeing up some storage space) and the borrower won’t waste money on something that will only be used once. At first the most popular goods on the site were short-term rentals of creative stuff – drones, DJ equipment, camera accessories. Now, though, the remit is expanding (from tuxedos to camper vans) along with demand. Dog crates currently top the dog-related rental list. Any dog owner will know why. I wish Fat Llama had been around 5 years ago, when we bought all the puppy paraphernalia that Teddy so quickly grew out of. Not all of it was crazily expensive, but it took up much-needed space and things like the puppy play pen and the puppy crate, were only used for such a short time.

Fat Lama is operating in the UK and currently rolling out in New York, too. While it might not quite match the altruistic Kiwi approach, this take on a sharing economy is clever and ridiculously easy to use. It’s also quite fun to browse. Last time I looked, the Flintstones Fruit Machine caught my eye, and I’m pretty sure that renting the hydraulic dog-grooming table once in a while would make brushing Ted (who prefers to wander off, mid-brush, see above) a whole lot easier.

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Teddy’s Tales: Do Dogs Need Suncream?

keeping dogs cool

Teddy has had a 7-month summer and he’s not complaining. We started our New Zealand adventure in August, which means we got the best of a warm London before enjoying the steamy run up to Auckland’s summer which, they say, peaks in February.

Did Ted miss December in Hampstead: frosty ground, sharp air and dashing about on Hampstead Heath with a bit of light snow in his whiskers? Maybe. Does he miss those January mornings when it’s dark, wet and so chilly that he has to wear one of his despised jackets? Probably not, although lately he has refused his short afternoon stroll up and down the volcanoes of Auckland. The humidity has got to us all.

It’s been the hottest January recorded in New Zealand – 28 degrees today in Auckland plus 82% humidity. At times it feels positively soup-y but, when we’re almost ready to keel over, along comes a breeze that makes it manageable.

We’re all new to this super-charged heat, so we’ve had to get equipped. For the humans this means hats, SPF50 suncream (Kiwi sun awareness is such that I couldn’t actually find a lower SPF in the shops) and remembering not to rush.

As ever, for Ted, things are more involved. While I was picking up a cool mat for Teddy in the pet shop, I spotted suncream marketed for dogs. Should we be using it? “If your dog has a pale coloured nose or if your dog is constantly in the sun (if it’s a working dog or an outside dog) you need it,” said the helpful assistant. “My colleague uses it on her pale-coloured dog and he manages not to lick it off. It’s worked well for them.” Luckily Ted is not in the at-risk groups – I imagine that will be helped by the fact that we always, but always, seek out shade.

An ice cube tray is also on my shopping list as I read yesterday that the canine equivalent of an ice lolly is a cube of frozen chicken stock. Up to now he’s been chomping on cold carrots and chilly lettuce. Other measures we’ve taken to beat the heat: lunchtime walks have been delayed until later in the day when the sun is a little less fierce –  there’s a crazy amount of heat that rises from the black Tarmac. Ted has had his coat cut short and his belly shaved. We take a doggy water bottle when we go out and, while Teddy refuses to sit on the cool mat that I bought, he has decided to temporarily give up the sofa in favour of the cool tile floor.

In among all this, Ted has injured his cruciate ligament. It probably happened while chasing down a ball or flinging himself about on the beach (the vet says it’s an exceedingly common doggy injury). Over the past month he’s had anti-inflammatories, laser treatment and strictly no off-lead walks/runs. If there is a good time for this to happen, I suppose the height of summer is it. Although I sometimes catch him staring longingly at a ball, there’s no way he could muster up the energy to give chase in this muggy haze so wisely, he’s taken to cuddling his fluffy rat, instead. I think he knows it’s for the best.

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Teddy’s Tales: Why Tea Towels?

While working as a fashion editor, I interviewed John Loring, the distinguished design afficionado, then design director of Tiffany. A remark he made about tea towels stayed with me (that, and the fact that he knew Peggy Guggenheim – he was exactly the kind of man you want to be sat next to at a dinner party, full of intriguing stories and recollections from an extraordinarily well-lived life).

His views on tea towels went something like this: don’t stint on everyday items but buy the best you can afford, and then a wise investment becomes a daily pleasure. He went on to describe in detail the linen cloths that he preferred.

This memory came to mind when I was wanting to collaborate on a Tales of Teddy project with Ali Pye. She is a supremely talented illustrator whose work appears in a wealth of books, published worldwide, and whose images feel childhood-familiar and always makes me smile (see her excellent instagram feed @alipyeillo). We met, she drew Teddy several times (and thought him ‘extremely fine’), and we came up with A Better Tea Towel.

With the quote that is often attributed to William Morris – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” – ringing in my ears, I sourced the best Linen Union blend of linen and cotton, stuff that will get better and softer with age.

Ali’s signature style, combining hand-drawn, printed and digital elements with a wry touch of humour comes through in her illustration of mischievous Ted taking centre stage on Christmas Day, rustling about in the wrapping paper and looking slightly retro while he’s about it, framed in a sweet dotty border.

So, there we are,  A Better Tea Towel from Tales of Teddy: a frame-worthy image of one tufty character printed on the best kind of hardy cloth that is just about guaranteed to keep you cheery while you wash up.



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Teddy Loves: his NZ home-from-home

If change is good, then right now our cup is brimming over. Having moved halfway around the world three months ago – from London to Auckland – last week we upped sticks and moved again. Luckily our new house is in the same lush, green neighbourhood so we didn’t have far to go this time, and now our home is filled with all the things that we shipped from the UK – including, essentially, our trusty sofa. A well-travelled friend, who has moved her family around the world several times, said the most important thing to take on a long-stay elsewhere is the sofa and some familiar artwork. Her thought being that if the hub of the home, where the family gets together and feels relaxed, is intact and if the eyes rest on a few recognisable, loved objects, then your home-from-home is set.

Our goods arrived last week and, while we were unpacking, Teddy was at liberty to explore his new garden. He investigated the borders, barked at the neighbours, ate some unmentionables from underneath the decking and enjoyed lounging about in the long, tough grass. How different from his tiny patch of outdoor space back in London. Ted is now spending an awful lot of time outside, either snoozing (always with one eye open), or sniffing the air and getting a feel for his new domain.

I wonder what he’s taking in – aside from the tempting barbecue smells that this weekend emanated from the farmer’s market at the end of our street?

Three months in and I’m still sniffing the remarkably sweet-smelling air, noting the differences between Auckland and London. There’s the blazing sun that, even during this apparently unusually rainy spring, quickly turns a day from being cool and damp to steamy and tropical. You never know which you’re going to get. The ever-present threat of rain sheds some light on the practical Kiwi style habit: wearing flip-flops (or jandals) with everything.

I can’t stop ogling the super-sized plants. Huge palm trees, meaty flowers and exotic vegetation look triffid-style lush.

Then there’s the utter absence of litter, which seems all the more remarkable given that there are so few litter bins (something I might not have noticed if I wasn’t constantly in search of a place to deposit a poo bag – and no, they don’t tie used poo bags to trees over here).

And that’s just the dog walks… I’m intrigued that the same country which turns out the most incredibly polite children (who hold constant eye contact and converse easily with grown-ups), is super-relaxed when it comes to swearing. I was listening to an ad on national radio and up popped w****r, more than once. My teenage son explained that it just doesn’t have the same weight over here; “That’s just the way they roll.” Okay.

So, in amid all the newness, and while we are all still sniffing the air, there’s always the sofa to come back to in a place that, for the moment, does indeed feel like home. Ted for one, is thrilled.

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Teddy’s Tales: Boring Dog Walks

Routine creeps up when you need to do the same thing day in, day out. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I loved our daily dog walks along the same tracks on Hampstead Heath, seeing the views change as the trees went about their seasonal business. However, when your dog knows the drill and gets a sudden case of deafness or an urge to wander off when you reach a certain spot that spells home, things can get tricky.

I’d been walking Teddy in a particular Auckland park for a few weeks. At what I had been told was the designated off-lead spot, we’d had a few games of fetch and I’d given him the freedom to snuffle about. Then I found out that the, ‘hill with trees on it where dogs can free-roam’, was not the pretty spot that we’d been visiting but right by a main road, which put it on the wrong side of risky for us.

Of course, after I found out that the former grassy knoll was out of bounds, Teddy felt even more sure that it was his personal playground. Each time I attempted to walk by, he dug his heels in. He also worked out that the chicken treats I produced from my pocket when we got there, the only stuff to make him budge, were another good reason to wait it out.

Well, change is good. As we can’t go off lead in that park anymore, and as Teddy has decided to plant himself on the pavement when he gets in the vicinity, I’ve been forced to find other free-roam areas and, in doing so, I’ve lit upon what Aucklanders call ‘reserves’. These small patches of greenery are dotted throughout built-up areas, linking up neighbourhoods. Hidden away like secret gardens, it turns out that most of them are dog-friendly oases. Filled with trees, populated by birds, with some open space and some bush – they are dog heaven.

Now that our furniture has made the journey from London and is currently sitting in Auckland customs, we’re moving to a new home. The good news is that I’ve discovered we have not one, but two of these reserves in our new road. Will Ted be content with those? Hmmm… I think he has plans to keep me on my toes.

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Teddy Loves: Dog Portraits

dog portraits

Could there be a better gift for a dog-lover than a portrait of their dog? I think not. But then again…

Buying a picture for someone else can be a tricky business – art is a personal thing. Add to that the fact that a dog portrait must capture all the beloved nuances (head tilt, lofty whiskers, skew-whiff tail etc) of that furry friend and things can get problematic.

I’ve discovered a way around it: her name is Caroline Towning. The artist is currently causing a bit of a stir with her dog portraits, beautifully painted in oils and captured between sweet vintage glass frames. Part of her popularity must be that she manages to brilliantly convey the personality of a dog yet her modus operandi is painless. No sittings were required when she painted Ted. I sent off a couple of decent photographs and a week later, a beautifully be-ribboned box appeared with an incredible portrait of Teddy inside. And it really was Teddy – not just any old whiskery Schnauzer. I look at the picture and I’d know that dog anywhere, the fix in his beady eye is spot-on (he’s just seen something he likes the look of – could be a squirrel, could be a round of Brie).

Really, that’s Caroline’s art. When you have a dog, you know your dog and for someone else to recognise your four-legged friend’s character and make-up is the ultimate charm. I have several portraits of Teddy – from loose sketches to cartoons and pastels – the thing that binds them all is that each artist has ‘got’ Ted. So, if you’re needing inspiration for a dog lover this Christmas, get in touch with Caroline. Her pieces take around a week to complete and they can be personalized with names / tags / a particular collar. Each one costs £250, including free P&P in the UK.