She wrote the book My Life in His Paws: The Story of Ted and How He Saved Me. In 2016, immediately after the English edition, the book was translated and published in Slovenian.
Smrcek: Welcome Mrs. Wendy Hilling, it is a great honor and pleasure to be in your company today.
Wendy Hilling: Firstly I would like to say what an honour it is to be asked to talk to you all about Teddy and I. I was thrilled to be told my book would be translated into Slovenian.
Wendy Hilling and the book
Smrcek: You have written the book My Life in His Paws, which has already been translated into five languages (English, Slovenian, German, Czech and Russian).
You have been accompanied by an incurable disease called Recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB) since birth. What is the RDEB disease, how does it affect your life, and how does a dog’s assistance help you and other patients?
Wendy Hilling: I have a rare condition RDEB. RDEB means recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa. It is caused by a faulty collagen seven gene. It results in the layers of skin not adhering together properly which causes the skin to shear or come up in huge blisters at the slightest trauma. The blisters are not self-limiting which means they have to be burst as soon as possible. Every area of the body both inside and out is affected. Many people are unable to swallow food because of the blistering and scarring and they are fed through a tube into the stomach. At the moment I am able to eat food that has been purée and sieved to remove even the slightest lumps.
It affects every move you make. Even turning over in bed can cause blisters to the arms, legs and feet. Eyelids can stick to the eyes in the night causing painful blisters and tears to the cornea. Teddy helps to undress me, picks things up, he can open and close doors, load and unload the washing machine, he has an emergency button on the telephone to call an ambulance if I am unwell.
The help Teddy give me means less trauma to my skin. Every blister can cause infection and even cancer. I am not a very confident person. Teddy gives me the emotional support to cope with new places or hospitals when I need treatment.
Smrcek: Despite the limitations caused by the disease, you are very active: you write, paint, work with various charities, travel… What else do you do, and how does Teddy integrate into that?
Wendy Hilling: Teddy is with me 24 hours a day. We do lead a very busy life but I make sure he gets plenty of rest and play.
I go to craft classes. We meet up with friends with their dogs for walks and coffee. I love to go birdwatching and we live in a very beautiful part of the country where there are several nature reserves to watch the birds. If I am going somewhere where Teddy needs to lay quietly, I always make sure he has a good walk and play first and again after.
Smrcek: You love animals very much and have been inseparably linked since the early childhood years. You’ve had some dogs, as well as a horse, a pony. Maybe you can give us a few words about them.
Wendy Hilling: My first memories of a dog in the house of a German Shepherd called Prince that we had when I was a child. I can remember he was a very large dog who was extremely gentle. When Prince died my parents bought a Labrador called Sammy. I adored Sammy. I was sent away to boarding school because I was not very well and I missed Sammy dreadfully. During the holidays I spent all my time with him.
We rescued a cat called Tina and for my 11th birthday my parents bought me a budgerigar called Jackie. Jackie talked a lot, he would even call the cat.
I bought my first pony when I was 16 and he was called Frisky.
All my life I have loved to be amongst animals. They are so honest. They love you for who you are.
Smrcek: Your book is full of priceless moments that you share with readers. Have you been thinking of writing another book?
Wendy Hilling: I have started to write the next book. I have also written a novel which I hope to find a publisher for. It is a romantic mystery. Hopefully it will get published.
I have always loved writing stories and poetry. My novel takes the readers to Europe and the USA and will keep them guessing right to the end.
Shannonstyle Edward Bear
Smrcek: Who is Teddy Edward or Shannonstyle Edward Bear?
Wendy Hilling: Teddy is a pedigree Golden Retriever. His pedigree name is Shannonstyle Edward Bear. His Canine Partners name is Teddy Edward.
Smrcek: What memories do you have of your first meeting with the puppy Teddy?
Wendy Hilling: The first time I saw Teddy he was 4 weeks old. He was with his brothers and sisters. They were in the kitchen with their mother.
Colin and Sheila Martin who bred them were lovely and made us cups of tea and gave us cake while we looked at the puppies. We all took turns to cuddle the litter but when Teddy came into my arms he put his head into my neck and fell asleep. He was all warm and had that wonderful puppy smell. I could feel his little heart beating and feel his breath on my neck. I fell in love with him instantly.
Smrcek: Teddy achieved an enviable number of points in testing the suitability for performing an assistant dog job. Did it surprise you?
Wendy Hilling: I wasn’t surprised Teddy did so well in his test to become a Canine Partners. I had been to see him several times, even Christmas Eve! and he was very alert to his surroundings. I was surprised he had the most points as they were all lovely puppies.
Smrcek: What does a day in your life look like? What are Teddy’s daily commitments and activities?
Wendy Hilling: I feed Teddy his breakfast about 7 o’clock in the morning and then he rests for two hours so that his food is digested and he doesn’t get indigestion.
He watches while I get washed and dressed and change my bandages. He fetches things I need, he loves helping.
After breakfast we take Teddy out for a run and play with his friends. We usually go for coffee and he relaxes with his friends while we all talk.
He helps with the washing machine and shopping if we need any. If I go to the hospital he comes with me. The doctors and nurses love to see him. He gets lots of cuddles. Having Teddy with me means I no longer focus on my treatment. I concentrate on Teddy’s needs and in return he keeps me calm.
Smrcek: Time for relaxation and rest is also very important. What is Teddy’s favourite relaxation or fun activity?
Wendy Hilling: Every day is different but we always make sure Teddy gets plenty of rest and play.
His favourite time is playing with his friends when he is out walking. He also loves visiting people or them coming to see us at home. He has lots of toys and doesn’t mind sharing them. On his birthday some of his friends came to his party.
Smrcek: Teddy is very helpful, physically and emotionally supportive, working with him and providing you with a better quality of life. How do you experience your connection and care for his needs?
Wendy Hilling: It feels as though Teddy and I know what each other thinks and what they need. We are together so much it feels as though he is part of me.
We put Teddy’s needs before ours. He is the first thing I think of when I wake and until I go to sleep.
I feed and groom Teddy and take him out for walks. We walk him twice a day running free in the fields or on the beach where we live.
Smrcek: Your Teddy is extremely instructable and perceptive. In addition to the type of tasks that he masters, he is well-versed in the use of the help button. Why is that so important?
Wendy Hilling: If I stop breathing at night Teddy wakes my husband and then Teddy pushed a button on his own emergency telephone to call an ambulance. When the paramedics arrive they make sure my oxygen levels are correct. Before we had Teddy Peter had to stay awake while I slept. Now Peter can sleep knowing I am safe with Teddy watching over me. The first time Teddy saved my life I was alone in the house. I choked and Teddy let himself out of the house to get help. He was awarded a commendation from the P.D.S.A for saving my life.
Smrcek: Because of the problems associated with your illness, you often need to visit health facilities. Is Teddy always present when you visit a doctor and if you are hospitalized, is he staying with you in a hospital room?
Wendy Hilling: Teddy comes to hospital with me. The doctors and nurses love to see him.
He stays in my room if I have to stay in. Peter takes him to the toilet and feeds him. It is up to the hospitals discretion to allow Assistance dogs in UK. Teddy is allowed to accompany me unless I need surgical procedures like dressing changes.
Smrcek: As we know, Teddy, who is also a therapeutic dog, is visiting hospitals, homes for the elderly and similar institutions with you. When did you find out that it has the characteristics of a therapeutic dog and how do you collaborate with these institutions?
Wendy Hilling: Teddy is a PAT dog (Pets As Therapy). All my dogs have been PAT dogs. I take him into schools and hospitals for people to see him and pat him. Teddy has the perfect temperament. He has always been a calm and friendly dog. He is a perfect PAT dog.
Smrcek: You state in the book that Teddy receives a salary paid by the British government for his work. Is such rewarding assistant dogs standard practice?
Wendy Hilling: Teddy was the first dog in Devon to receive Direct payments awarded by the government. They are at the discretion of the local council where the dog lives. It is to pay for all their needs. Most assistance dogs are carers and save the government a lot of money. They would have to pay a carer if the dog was not helping the disabled person.
Smrcek: Teddy is the mascot of the British Olympic Medical Team. He also received the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (P.D.S.A.) Prize for courage and reflection because he saved your life. What do these acknowledgments that Teddy receives mean to you?
Wendy Hilling: It was my proudest moment when Teddy became the British Olympic medical team mascot. It is an honour to visit the offices in London. We usually take Teddy on his birthday. Teddy’s award had created a lot of awareness to the general public to the work of assistance dogs and Canine Partners. Assistance dogs make a fantastic difference to a disabled persons life. Not only has Teddy saved my life but he has enhanced every day with him.
Smrcek: Assistant dogs, both in Slovenia and in the UK, have a sign on their chest that they should not be mistaken during their work. Do you often have problems when people speak or admire Teddy while he is performing his task?
Wendy Hilling: Teddy wears a Canine Partners jacket which identifies him as an assistance dog. I also carry an ID card for us. It is sometimes difficult to make people aware not to pet assistance dogs while they are helping. People love to pet the dogs. I politely explain Teddy is busy helping and tell them if they could just wait until he has finished helping then they are welcome to shake paws with him.
Smrcek: Teddy has certainly given you many unforgettable moments throughout the years of your partnership. If you are so kind, could you share with us a situation that made you laugh, cheer you up, or surprise you?
Wendy Hilling: One day we were in the supermarket and Teddy couldn’t reach the checkout shelf to put the shopping on. He sat down then threw the shopping over the counter. The lady caught it and all the shop laughed.
He once stopped the bus by the beach on the way home. I was going to walk him later that afternoon. The driver said ” do you want this stop ?” I said no. He replied “well your dog just pressed the button”. Everyone laughed.
He never gets on the bed. He prefers his own bed. We were visiting a hospice and went into the room with a very poorly man. Teddy very gently climbed on the bed with the man and lay his head over the mans legs. The man and his family were pleased. Sadly the man died not long after. We are still in touch with his family.
Smrcek: With Teddy, you are an inseparably connected pair. The third, very important member of your team, if we can say so, is your husband Peter.
Wendy Hilling: Peter is the one who looks after us all. We couldn’t manage without him. He never complains. Even when he hardly gets any sleep if I am ill in the night. We are very lucky to have him. We have been married 26 happy years.
Teddy has given Peter some independence too. Peter can leave me at my craft or with friends and then he can go for walks with a group of his friends. He knows Teddy will look after me.
Canine Partners and Dog Assistants
Smrcek: There are many charitable organizations in the UK that train dogs to help people with a variety of health problems. What kind of organization is Canine Partners, and how is it organized?
Wendy Hilling: Canine Partners has two training centres. One in the south of the UK and one in the midlands. It has a team of puppy parents who train the puppies from 8 weeks until 1 year when they then go to the training centres. They are then matched to a partner and further training is given for the partners individual needs.
Smrcek: What is the procedure for assigning an assistant dog by Canine Partners to a person with a health problem?
Wendy Hilling: The puppies are assigned to a partner after the puppy has been assessed to be suitable for that person. Then the partner and puppy meet for the first time. There has to be a natural bond between person and dog. No dog is forced to live with a person it doesn’t bond with. If the bond is not there then the person and the dog are both assigned another. The main thing is that the dog and partner are both happy to be together.
Smrcek: What does a search for a promising puppy look like?
Wendy Hilling: Canine Partners have their own breeding programs and also except puppies from suitable breeders.
Smrcek: After the training, the dog receives the title of ‘trainee’. When and in what way will it become an official assistant dog?
Wendy Hilling: The puppies go to puppy parents for the first year where they learn basic cues and are socialised. They then go to the training centre where they are taught more tasks.
It becomes an official assistance dog once it is partnered with the disabled person it will help and Canine Partners are satisfied that both the dog and the person are working well together. The puppies become official assistance dogs at about 2 years old.
Smrcek: Does an assistant dog in the UK have to perform certain tests of competence and suitability over the entire active period?
Wendy Hilling: The dogs are assessed every six months to make sure they are healthy and happy to continue helping their partner.
Smrcek: What training and exams should the prospective guardian of the assistant dog take?
Wendy Hilling: A prospective partner meets the dog for the first time where their needs are assessed.
The dog is then trained to the standard the disabled person needs. Both dog and person then attend a two week training course at Canine Partners where the partner is taught all aspects of care and further training of the dog. It is very intense and only when Canine Partners are satisfied the partnership is working well together do they go home together. Every partner is assigned an aftercare person who looks after them for the whole time they are together.
Smrcek: How did your collaboration with Canine Partners begin and does such a collaboration span a dog’s entire active period?
Wendy Hilling: I applied for a Canine Partners when I had my dog Monty. He was tested by Canine Partners and awarded an official assistance dog jacket. When Monty retired I was allowed to be involved in Teddy’s training.
Smrcek: Does the dog after retirement, when he no longer performs his duties, remain with the guardian?
Wendy Hilling: The retired dogs can remain with their partners as long as the partner can provide the needs of the dog. Some partners prefer to have a new partnership and then the retiring dog goes to a new home.
Teddy will always remain with me. I cannot imagine life without him, both as a helper and a best friend.
Smrcek: We sincerely thank you for the very pleasant conversation. We wish you many nice and happy moments with Teddy, many satisfied readers of your book and as little health problems as possible. Please convey nice greetings to your husband Peter and a warm embrace to Teddy. Best wishes on your coming birthday.
* Smrček (Smrcek) is a dog web portal. Name Smrček (Smrcek) In English language means Little Snout.