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TEDDY’S TALES: CHEMO FOR DOGS?

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: 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’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’s Tales: Teaching a Dog Manners

Compare Aucklanders with Londoners and of course there are differences. I’ve jotted down the contrasts and so far and they run the gamut from friendliness to fashion, driving skills to coffee obsessions.

As far as walking a dog is concerned the differences start with the first outing of the day: instead of people calling out, “Good morning!”, as they march their dogs up and down the volcanic hills it’s, “G’day!” – this is the antipodes after all. Then there’s the unabashed eye contact (not something you’ll find on public transport in London), but it’s the laid-back Kiwi friendliness that marks the most striking difference and it’s interesting because it seems to have filtered down from the dog owners to the dogs themselves.

I’ve had a fellow dog walker cross a field to have their dog meet Teddy, and plenty of people have crossed a street to do the same. Let’s be clear, at first I thought it was because the owners wanted to pass the time of day – but actually they just want their dogs to have a bit of interaction.

At first this unnerved me because Teddy is not always at his most sociable when on a lead. He doesn’t love other dogs bearing down on him, even if they seem to be jolly enough at the time. But the dogs that we have met so far have been altogether different. Unlike their London counterparts, they don’t yearn and strain to meet another dog, but merely show a bit of interest, exchange sniffs and trot on. In other words, they actually seem to have manners.

I need to find out more about this. Are these dogs all so well-socialised, so well-trained that they know not to jump on another dog? The off-leash opportunities in Auckland are fairly tightly controlled, so are these dogs so polite because they are not in the habit of the kind of high-octane horse-play that sometimes goes awry? (I do keep getting asked, “Does your dog free-roam?”). Or is it simply because they are relaxed and convivial like their owners? I’m leaning towards the latter.

The first time an older man led his alert little cockerpoo up to Ted, I smiled but warned him Teddy might not be terribly friendly. He looked at me like I was a bit odd and said, “Well let’s just see how they go.” And of course they were both perfectly fine. The dog and the man strolled off easily, having taught us both a lesson in Kiwi savoir faire.

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Teddy’s Tales: Shipping a Dog to New Zealand

Contemplate a move to the other side of the world and suddenly your priorities become crystal clear. Before committing to our Auckland adventure I became obsessive about two things: finding the right school for our children (we love their school in London so the bar was set high), and taking Teddy halfway around the world without causing some possibly hideous (i.e. dead dog) fallout.

I started doing an awful lot of online research to help alleviate the sleepless nights. After weeding out various massive schools (too impersonal), boarding schools (we want to be there as a family) and religious schools (we’re not), I lit upon a non-selective, co-ed, progressive school in Auckland. It seemed most similar to our one back home. We had a Skype interview with the headmaster. I wondered whether there was any sort of entrance requirement. The Principal shook his head firmly. He said admission rested on the children’s answers to just one question. I heard the drumroll in my head….He looked at each child and paused. “Do you want to learn?” he piped up, a huge smile on his face. Brilliant. (Most especially since each of our children answered in the affirmative. Phew.)

Then there was Teddy to think about. Of course, during my research I managed to scare myself stupid reading all the horror stories: dogs freezing to death while flying in the equivalent of unheated ‘cargo’; dogs suffering heat exhaustion while left on the tarmac during a plane change or not having access to water in-flight and expiring on arrival. Hideous, hideous, hideous. I trawled the web for good outcomes and warily read testimonials. Finally I came across two options that I liked the sound of. I went for PetAir UK because the woman I spoke with on the telephone was efficient in the questions she asked me, and straightforward and understanding in the answers she gave to my bordering-on-the-neurotic grilling.

Please know this: if you want to ship a dog that hasn’t travelled before to New Zealand, then the process requires a good 6 month lead time. Thank heavens Teddy had previously had his rabies jabs for France and we’ve kept him up to date, so when I first enquired in March about taking him to Auckland in August, it all seemed do-able, though we still had to get on with it.

There followed a good few hours of form filling, contract signing and paperwork scanning (“Pour yourself a glass of wine and spend an evening on it,” suggested one PetAir UK rep.) Then we received a detailed schedule of exactly when each vet appointment should be made (three in all, at specific intervals once we knew that the rabies jab was still effective), what jabs were necessary and to which lab the blood samples should be sent. We had super-efficient Zasman Vet do all the necessaries because they are great: gentle, kind and they always come up trumps on the treat front.

We opted for PetAir UK to build him his wooden shipping crate, giving him the maximum amount of space allowed. We also opted to fly him to New Zealand via Los Angeles as, going on the same route as us via Hong Kong, although cheaper would require a longer stopover time. The thing with shipping a pet to New Zealand is that they are sealed in the crate for the entire journey – 26 hours. No getting out for rest stops unless you go for a different route and a longer stopover, in which case when the dogs do come out of their crate, they don’t all want to get back in again. Hardly surprising and an added stress. We thought it would be better getting it over and done with as soon as possible even though, like all dog owners, we’d spent time teaching Teddy not to mess in his living area, and now he had to do just that. I thought this might completely freak him out. Then again, there were any amount of things about it all that I thought might upset him – the noise, the smells, any other unhappy animals there with him – the list was endless.

PetAir UK did a good job at putting fears to rest. They told me how they spray the crates with pheromones to calm the animals and they take off any items (collar, big toys etc) that might cause a problem in transit. Dogs travel in a temperature-regulated compartment on the airplane, devoted to pet transport (absolutely not in the hold with the luggage). The idea is to keep things as calm as possible so they turn off the lights after take off. The dogs are allowed access to water and they have some Vetbed in the crate to help wick away any moisture but they are also not fed six hours before flying to eliminate any accidents. The icing on the cake was probably the young man who came to collect Ted the afternoon before he flew. He was calm and kind and Teddy went to him immediately. That had to be a good sign.

And that was that. I watched Teddy’s van pull out into the London traffic and didn’t see him again until two days later at Qualified Pet Services quarantine station in New Zealand. Even though my children called it ‘dog prison’ because unsurprisingly (it’s quarantine!), Ted was housed in a concrete run with a bed and a water bowl and a slot in the door to look through, these people care and they really know their animals. They were keen to find out all about Ted before he came to them and quick to let us know that Ted had, ‘come out of his crate easily’ when he arrived, which was apparently a good sign. We visited Ted the day after we touched down. We had to pull on special white clinical robes. He was a bit punch drunk and tired, as were we. He was miserable when we left. We were, too. Then, when we went back a couple of days later, it was a completely different story: he was cheery and bouncy and, although he wanted to leave with us, he settled quickly after we went. Of course, when we came to collect him he was ecstatic and promptly peed on the floor (“That’ll teach you,” I could hear him say).

I suppose if you are going to ship a dog – or your children – half way around the world, you are probably going to do your research. We seem to have lucked out with the school and for Teddy, I feel like the research paid dividends, too. He’s healthy, he’s happy and he’s here, walking the school run, getting fussed over at the gates and generally taking Auckland in his stride.

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Teddy’s Tales: Teddy on Tour – Before we Begin…

teddy on tour

We are two weeks into our New Zealand adventure and Auckland has been extraordinarily kind to us. The people we’ve met have been open and friendly and the weather has been impressive – torrential rain one moment, bright warm sun the next. The locals may have had enough of the downpours but for us, arriving during their equivalent of our dreich February, it’s not at all bad. I’d take Auckland’s intense bright ‘winter’ light (albeit coming between bouts of rain) over our dragged-out grey winters any day.

We’ve been getting used to the time difference, the wonder of WhatsApp, and calling friends and family at breakfast time or bedtime, and catching them when they are half a day behind and doing the reverse. We’ve been getting used to the sounds of the birds (particularly the one that sounds like a lorry backing-up) and the smell of fresh air and eucalyptus trees.

This past week has been full of ‘begin again’ chores like opening new bank accounts, sorting out new phone lines, switching driving licences and working out how to efficiently heat our rental house (the Auckland rain showers make for a pervading sense of damp). It’s all coming together.

We’ve had some exciting things to do, like check out our new area (Parnell). We’ve identified our favourite restaurants and coffee shops so far, and explored the strip that is the heart of this village. We’ve made our way around the local supermarkets (there’s nothing like peering into other people’s shopping trolleys to give you a handle on things) and this weekend we’ll do as the locals do and head to the market to pick up next week’s fruit and veg and maybe take a ride up the coast to check out the beaches. I’d say we’ve settled into our home – just about worked out the intricacies of the coffee machine – and we’ve also bought a car so that we can go further afield. There’s been some nail-biting stuff to be done, too. I left my heart in my mouth when I dropped off the children for their first day at their new school. Four days in and I’m relieved to report that all is well. Friends have been made and both boys have noted that the interesting difference here is that everyone plays with everyone – no cliques. Long may that last.

And then, of course, there’s Ted. Hearing his four paws skitter about the floor boards and having his inquisitive nose poke about the place makes everything feel like home. He survived the 24-hour crate journey. He put up with all the foreign noises and smells of two crazy-long plane journeys. He survived 10 days of quarantine and was very kindly looked after (in what my children christened ‘dog prison’). He’s a stoic little character who has already found a cat to bark at and a sofa to call his own. I’ll write more about the whole dog-shipping process next week. In the meantime, I think Ted and I shall stretch our legs while the sunshine holds.

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