It felt like Teddy’s arrival was a long time coming. I registered with Battersea in August, after months of wistfully browsing its pages. After an exhaustive interview, it was just a matter of finding a match. So I called nearly every week to enquire if there were any matches for me. “No, sorry – keep calling!” came the response, every time. There were a couple of nearlies, and then, four months later, came Teddy.
Teddy the shih-tzu was donated to the home at the ripe old age of 13 – a victim of the recession. He had lived with a family from a puppy, but the parents had lost their jobs, and their home, and they couldn’t take him into their new accommodation. Obviously, a sentimental fool like I would want to rescue him and give him a nice retirement home. When we met he was mellow, almost diffident, but fully adorbs. I fell in love with him immediately.
Getting to take him home a week later – once he’d been castrated, had a bunch of teeth pulled out and been forced to don the Cone Of Shame – was so exciting but so nerve-wracking. After a restless first night together, we took ourselves off to a long Lips choir rehearsal (rather than leave him in his new, unfamiliar house for 5 hours). He was rather overwhelmed, but charmed all the Lipsters and was soon dubbed the official Lips dog (no small honour!). But he didn’t like being left in another room while we practiced – it was clearly going to be hard work getting him used to being alone.
In the week of working from home that I’d planned to get him settled in, we soon had our little routine down and started bonding. When Teddy wasn’t sleeping with his tongue sticking out in his wonderfully cute way (which was rare), we walked the streets around Spitalfields, making friends with the stallholders in the market, fellow dog-walkers in nearby parks, and even the, um, mature lady of the night who works the corners of Commercial Street. He nestled by my feet or under my desk chair while i was working, met family and friends, and was rapidly better known as Tedbags.
But in spite of our cosiness, he feared being left on his own and would bark the house down if he was alone for more than a few minutes. I did all the Dog Whisperer training to the letter and had the Battersea behaviourist on speed-dial, while my Google history for December must have beeen 90% separation anxiety-related . But, he still got distressed if left on his own. At some point I was obviously going to have to leave the house, even though leaving caused him so much stress. I would chance leaving for an hour or so, hoping he would sleep through it, but always returned to a barking, freaked-out Tedbags and a puddle of wee by my armchair. This became rather a pattern any time he was on the other side of a closed door. I dutifully cleaned up the wee each time (always by the armchair, with an occasional bonus wee by my desk for variety), but worried that things were getting worse, which was super-upsetting.
When we went back to Battersea to get Teddy’s stitches out and the cone off (and once Paul O’Grady had fallen for him too), I met with the behaviourist to see if he thought Teds would get used to his own company, but he did the cowboy-plumber intake of breath and said, “well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Helpful. I snuck a look at Tedbags’ file while the guy was out of the room, and discovered that he’d never really been left on his own before, having lived with a five-person family, plus another dog. Now Teddy’s freakouts made more sense – and it was suddenly blindingly clear that we weren’t a good match after all. He deserved better for his retirement home: like living with a nice old retired lady who shared his restful lifestyle and need for constant companionship.
So I did the thing no animal-lover is supposed to do, and I took Teddy back to Battersea. It broke my heart to do it, but I couldn’t see any way forward that wouldn’t leave dear old Tedbags locked in a cage (or “crated” as the behaviourist preferred to say) for his twilight years. Battersea were very understanding about the mismatch, and assured me he’d find somewhere new quickly, not least because of his ridiculous cuteness. They were right: within a few days he got a nice new home, hopefully with lots of company – the kind of retirement Tedbags deserves.