Tales of Teddy

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Teddy’s Tales: A podgy dog


There’s no hiding it any longer. Now that Teddy’s coat has been clipped short in a bid to beat the heady Auckland heat, his increasing girth cannot be ignored. From some angles, with his super-slick cut, he is beginning to resemble a roly-poly pale grey seal pup. Adorably cuddly, but not terribly healthy.

The trouble is that since last year, when we were told that our beloved dog’s days were numbered, we have been keen to make every day a joy for him, which roughly translates to giving him almost exactly what he wants, when he wants it. Of course, Ted is on to it. Now, when we go for a walk, there are regular moments when he stubbornly plants himself with stiff little legs, because he knows that if he looks a bit wanting, I will more likely than not give him his ultimate treat: a small disc of carrot.

This morning, as Teddy was standing firm and beadily eyeing the pocket in which his carrots are kept, I remembered the advice that Deborah Colella, aka The Dog Nanny gave me: reward the behaviour you want in your dog. Whoops.

It’s time to get back on track. Unfortunately the weather here right now is not really on our side: the humidity in Auckland is enough to curtail the most athletic dog’s romping schedule. Still, we’ll start by spinning out the time between treats and decreasing his daily food intake. Not too onerous. Teddy has exceeded the ‘6 month max’ he was given a year ago and we will be ever thankful for great vets, immunotherapy and pet insurance. When I think of it like that, those little rolls of podge are rather a nice problem for him – and us – to have.

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Teddy’s Tales: Turning Five

Ted turning five has got me thinking. It’s been a heck of year. We’ve swapped London for Auckland and transplanted the family, the home and, of course, Teddy (what is he if not family, after all?).

We set out for a bit of an adventure and I think we’ve all found it. New school, new job, an altogether different, outdoorsy life that at times feels the polar opposite to urban London. We’ve had the great good fortune to trade our lovely London life for a place where positivity abounds. We’ve made friendships to treasure and perhaps that’s been the greatest adventure of all. Finding out that there are other places as good as where you’ve come from is usually a fleeting holiday feeling for me: I get back to Blighty and know that’s where I belong. Now, though, Auckland has taken on a homely appeal. (Perhaps it’s easier to think that because I’m safe in the knowledge that our first trip back to London has been just been booked).

And then there’s Ted. He’s been remarkable. Our family’s rock. While the news about his health sent us reeling at first, now we’re no longer tip-toeing around the prognosis. We’re focussing on the good stuff. He’s made it to 5, and in some style. Wonderful runs on deserted beaches are his weekend treat. He’s hailed by name in the local village, has a garden to roust about in, and a pew on the deck from where he can watch the neighbourhood goings-on. Today he’s had birthday walks, birthday chews, a birthday beaver toy in a brown paper birthday sack and is currently sunning himself in the mild winter rays on his sheepskin rug. While the last six months have proved a rocky road for dear Ted-ster, if I was going to find the silver lining, I’d say it’s made us focus on the positive. Ted benefits and that can only be a good thing for us all.

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Teddy’s Tales: Hearing the Worst, Hoping for the Best

After the diagnosis of Teddy’s malignant melanoma, we were told how long Teddy might be expected to live. While I had asked the question, nevertheless, I didn’t want to think about the fairly hopeless answer. Instead, my mind ran towards all the human-grade ‘cures’ for cancer (see last blog post Teddy’s Tales: Chemo For Dogs?).

Having talked it through with our ever-sympathetic vet, Erin at The Strand Vet, it turned out that in fact, it was more pressing that Ted first had some fairly drastic surgery.

We headed to the Animal Referral Centre, a multi-disciplined referral hospital. With specialists in internal medicine, surgery and emergency critical care, it’s something of a one-stop-shop for such serious conditions. We had a meeting with Sarah, the vet in charge of internal medicine. She was fully prepared to answer all our questions, and calmly and clearly talked us through a plan of action.

First: surgery. Sarah introduced us to surgeon Karl, who told us what he would do. First he’d cut away a 3cm wide thickness along Ted’s upper lip to remove any other cancerous cells lurking there. Then he would take out the lymph glands in Teddy’s neck so they could be assessed for cancer spread. “By advancing Teddy’s remaining top lip forward and suturing the gum line, lip muscle and skin in separate layers,” he would meticulously piece Ted’s mouth back together again. Karl was so utterly assured, and so smilingly positive, that we didn’t need to think twice. Of course Ted would be fine with Karl. And he was. Teddy came home in a cone and, although dopey for a couple of days, was the model patient: no scratching, and he healed beautifully fast.

What’s more, instead of waiting for ages to hear about the results from the lymph nodes, in the shortest time, the results came back: clear. So, while we knew that, without a doubt, this aggressive strain of cancer will return, the clear results from the surgery left us with some more options.

Sarah told us that with Ted’s type of cancer, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are not considered as effective as immunotherapy. It’s the gold standard for humans. Having done some research (you can read more about Teddy’s vaccine, here), the side effects appear to be negligible – in some cases a mild fever – but the potential boost to Ted’s immune system might help him live healthily for longer. Sarah warned us that the vaccine would have to be imported from America, it would take some time to arrive, it was expensive and there was always the risk that it might not work for Ted. She left it up to us. The decision was easy to make – we’d give up a lot for Teddy, although in this case, we didn’t have to. Instead we thanked our lucky stars for pet insurance and went ahead with ordering the vaccine.

Now, two months later, Ted has fully recovered from the surgery and has happily accepted all four rounds of his immunotherapy. He is perfectly perky and utterly himself: albeit with a characterful slant to his face where the lump was removed which, we’ve decided, gives him a fetchingly quizzical look. If all is well in six months, he will have another shot of immunotherapy.

I say ‘if’ because I’m trying not to count my chickens, but then I’m also doing quite a good job of putting the all-too-short life expectancy timeline out of my mind. We’re busy seizing the moment over here in New Zealand, and when I allow myself to think about it, of course I’m hoping that Teddy will prove the exception to the rule.

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dogs and chemo

It’s been two months since I last posted a blog about Teddy and an awful lot has happened since then. I’ll take it step by step. First of all, we got the pathology results for the lump removed from Teddy’s lip. It wasn’t good news. He has malignant melanoma and it is a particularly aggressive strain. It’s unusual in such a youngster – Ted’s only four-years-old.

The diagnosis brought with it a whole lot of upset and a seemingly endless stream of questions. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery – do dogs even have those options? Ted’s lovely vet at The Strand Veterinarian, talked me through it all.

She was incredibly kind and patient while I sat and tried to get my head around the thought of energetic little Ted with such a nasty, fast-moving cancer. She shared stories of her own Greyhound’s cancer diagnosis five years ago. It seemed a fairly hopeless situation for her dog but she opted for chemotherapy. We talked a lot about the ethics of giving dogs chemo.

Ever since Ted wore a cone after the first biopsy, friendly dog walkers had enquired after his health and we’d get talking, as dog owners do. Unsurprisingly opinions ran strong on giving dogs chemotherapy – I suppose too many of us have seen the short term fallout on humans.

I had assumed we wouldn’t want to give Teddy chemo: why subject him to any extra discomfort if it only delayed the inevitable? Some dog owners agreed. Some pointed to the exorbitant cost of treatment. Some raised their hands and their eyebrows in as much to say, at the end of the day, it’s a dog. I get it. We all have different expectations and different ways we love our dogs.

Probably wisest of all though, was the woman who Teddy sought out while she sat drinking her coffee on a bench. He must have felt the love. She had a chat with Teddy and asked me why he was wearing the cone. I had only just heard the prognosis from the vet so when this kind woman asked after Teddy, she got it all, with a side of waterworks. I must have talked for 10 minutes before I drew breath. And then she told me about her dog. His exceptional personality, his handsome fur and how she could never have another because when he died he took something of her with him. “Don’t rule out chemotherapy,” she said, calmly. “Find out the facts and then you’ll know what to do. Come and find me on the bench if you want to talk. I’m often here.” Not for the first time, I left in wonder at the kindness of strangers.

More research proved her point. The vet reassured me that when they give chemo to dogs they take a unique approach. Humans can make the choice to suffer the side effects that chemo can bring with it. As we make the choice for the dogs, it’s the vet’s job to make sure the side effects are not severe and don’t make things worse for the trusting patient. I didn’t want to ask, but I had to: how did her beloved greyhound do? She smiled. Five years on and he was the elegant dog that had sauntered past me in the waiting room.

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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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