Thema “Tay” Ladd is a corporate tax lawyer and content creator well known for being one of the first dog mom influencers, sharing her charmed life and travels with her Goldendoodle, Gus. The lifelong vegetarian—unlike Gus, she has never eaten meat!—is a first-time dog mom originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands, but currently resides in New York City. We spoke with her about involving dogs in weddings, balancing two full-time jobs, and why it’s better over there on TikTok.
Did you grow up with dogs?
No, I didn’t have any pets. To be fair, we had two goldfish, but they only lasted two days because I overfed them. I actually had a fear of dogs, and I don’t know where that originated, but I had this fear leading up to law school and even when I moved to New York. I had never been attacked—I think it was just fear of the unknown.
I wanted Gus to be involved in our wedding as much as possible because that’s how he is in our everyday life. The most important day of our lives should be no different.
What led you to Gus then?
My now-husband and I had gone to Australia for our 30th birthdays. We’re three days apart, so we usually celebrate our birthdays together. We had gotten engaged in Sydney, so we were coming off this extreme high. I love Sydney—other than New York, it’s probably the only other city in which I’d consider living. I was sad about coming back, so I joked that it would be better if we were coming home to a cute dog. I was already warming up to a dog at this point because we were living in Chelsea and it’s very dog-friendly. Our building had so many Goldendoodles, so I was constantly seeing these cute dogs.
The moment we got back from the airport and walked into our building lobby. There was this cute Goldendoodle being, well, cute, so we talked to the owners for 30 minutes, got the breeder’s info, and reached out to the breeder ourselves. It just so happened that someone fell through in Gus’ litter. They had an opening, and we got Gus two-and-a-half weeks later, which is unheard of. That’s how it fell into place.
So, you got Gus because you were heartbroken over leaving Australia?
Yeah. I kept thinking, I wish we were coming home to something that made me happy. I associated coming home to a dog that would be happy to us as an offset to the letdown of leaving such a great moment in Sydney.
That’s beautiful. Once you have a dog in your life, home feels more like home wherever you are.
That’s one of the last times I’ve ever traveled without Gus! Since then, I’ve only been on a plane once without him. He’s with us wherever we go now.
What was it like to bring a dog home for the first time?
I treated it similar to having a newborn baby because I didn’t want to mess up. At first, my husband had to hold him. I was so afraid because Gus was so tiny. Of course, I was obsessed with him. I took a million pictures. Before we got a dog, I was like, the dog is not sleeping on the bed. Absolutely not. But the first night we tried putting him in the crate, he cried so much. Since then, he’s slept in the bed with us. Right now, he’s curled up underneath the chair. This is our relationship. He does whatever we do. People say that Goldendoodles are so needy, but I’m so needy!
Love that he’s a mama’s boy. How did you decide on his name?
I give 100 percent credit to my husband because the names I had in mind were so awful. I won’t even tell you. It came from two things. There’s this song that my husband heard about a man named Gustavo, but I say it came from a character from our favorite TV show, Breaking Bad. He’s very devious and calculating, but no one could tell just by looking at him.
How has raising Gus as dog parents affected your relationship with your now-husband?
It’s helped us think outside of ourselves. I’ve been very inward looking. It’s not so much being selfish, but it’s just how I live my whole life—focusing on getting things done and getting to the next step. Same with my husband. With Gus, we have to think outside of ourselves. He needs us every single day and we have to work together. We have to collaborate and act as a team. When we’re fighting, having Gus is the unifying factor to get through things. Gus can diffuse any situation because we’ll remember that this stupid argument doesn’t mean anything. Gus is the most important thing.
That’s so beautiful. Tell us about how you involved Gus in your gorgeous wedding.
Gus has a barking issue and that is something we are still struggling with. This was not really remedied before the wedding. But I knew there could not be a wedding without him. So, we enlisted the services of the top pet wedding attendant, Stephanie from Wags & Garland, to be there. She was amazing. We needed someone who was vetted and who would treat him like her own dog. She was there for all the activities throughout wedding weekend.
If we needed him for a photo, we would just wave her over. She walked him down the aisle, he sat across the table from us at dinner, she fed him, she groomed him. I could not recommend her enough. I wanted Gus to be involved in our wedding as much as possible because that’s how he is in our everyday life. The most important day of our lives should be no different.
What did Gus wear for your wedding?
He wore a two-piece tuxedo. He wore a bandana with the buttons and bow tie. And then he had a tux that went over his back, too. I got it from Etsy.
Cute! You didn’t take Gus on your honeymoon, did you?
Oh yes, we did.
No way. Tell us about that.
Especially with my job, I knew this was my best opportunity to take so much time off. So, we stayed in wine country—Sonoma—and we went to only dog-friendly hotels, vineyards, and wineries. We enlisted Brooke from Wine Country Doggy to take care of Gus if we went out for dinner, just the two of us, or wanted to do a couple’s massage. Brooke would come over to the hotel room and Gus loved her.
Which dog-friendly wineries do you recommend?
Lambert Bridge Winery is our top one. We’ve been there so many times and we schedule our vacations to coincide with their member events. There’s McIlroy Cellars. There’s also Bricoleur Vineyards and Matanzas Creek Winery. All dog-friendly, all Instagrammable, with amazing wine. Bricoleur’s chef even makes dog treats in-house. I think most of them have resident dogs.
Those dogs are definitely living their best life! You’re an incredibly prolific content creator and, as you mentioned, you have a full-time job as a corporate lawyer. How exactly do you do it?
Both of them are full-time jobs. I don’t think I necessarily take the best care of myself, but I’m working on it. It’s helpful to set boundaries in both areas of my life. Now, I treat social media as a business, which is the best way for me to do it. My job as a lawyer is my priority, because that’s what enabled me to live this lifestyle. I never lose sight of that. I shoot a lot of my content on the weekends. Saturday is my brainstorming day, in which I assess what happened during the week—what worked and didn’t work. And then I try to map out the big pictures. Like, these are the themes that seem to be working, the content types that seem to be working.
I don’t batch create content—I don’t operate that way. I do plan out and reassess and reevaluate my plans weekly so that I’m able to create intuitively. Let’s be real: It’s not like I’m putting together podcasts or YouTube videos or writing blog posts. A seven-second video is not going to take me a lot of time, especially if I’m already wearing makeup. If I have some downtime during work, I’ll shoot a video, but that’s because I do a lot of planning on the weekends.
Does Gus ever need to take a break from making content?
Yes, he definitely does. When I first started TikTok, I was just like, I wanna do all of the things. I’ll just give Gus treats and he’s fine. And then I realized very quickly, okay, I can run myself to the ground, but I will not do that to Gus. Now, I will only bother him from his slumber once I’ve mapped out the concept. All he has to do is sit there and look cute. If I haven’t figured it out myself, I’m not bothering him.
Love that you’re such a good dog mom making sure that your dog can just do it in one take.
That’s the goal. It should be fun for him—he doesn’t need to work like I do! He needs to be a happy dog, look cute, and live his best life. He does not need to do multiple takes because I could not get my act together. That’s not his problem.
Exactly. His only job is to be a happy dog. What drew me to your content initially is that you were one of the first dog mom influencers—like you put yourself in front of the camera with your dog, instead of just your dog. We got to experience your relationship, not just see your cute dog. What pushed you to do that?
In the beginning, there were pushbacks. People were like, I only want to see your dog. But I wanted people to be clear on who was behind these posts. Let’s be real—Gus isn’t writing these captions. It’s important to remember that. I love seeing all the accounts that are doing something similar because I connect so much more when I see the human. We all have cute dogs, but it’s the connection with the human that I remember.
TikTok has been the driving force in giving me confidence to do a lot of things I don’t do on Instagram. Maybe people are less willing to experiment on Instagram—I love being myself on TikTok.
What has been your favorite TikTok that you’ve made?
The most popular one was before we transitioned the account to being both of us was just Gus in the bathtub. The music choice was perfect, and it went viral. But I don’t like to mention that one because I have nothing against cute puppy videos, but I don’t want to rely on those just to get views. I don’t feel that’s attracting the audience that I want.
So, in terms of the new direction, one of the top videos has been “Work Bitch” by Britney Spears. It’s me at my workstation. I press a key on my computer and it starts playing the song. The text overlay is just reminding myself that my dog and I love expensive things. That one’s been blowing up.
Another one that’s been doing really well—not necessarily viral—but is my new direction on TikTok that I’ve been absolutely loving.
it’s just me showcasing that people have told me, “You can’t be a corporate lawyer and a content creator.” And me just saying, “Why not? Says who?” And just doing it anyways. For me, that type of content is inspirational for not only millennials who might be working at a demanding career and seeing this, but also younger audiences like gen z who may be thinking, I can’t be a lawyer because my idea of a lawyer is someone who is professionally uptight. I want to inspire the future generations of lawyers. I’d rather do that than share brand partnership tips.
So, behind the scenes: What do you feed Gus?
Right now, we’ve been feeding him Karma. I typically do not do any type of dog food promos because we like to control what he eats. But I had partnered with Karma because we love their environmentally-conscious messaging. The ingredients are very simple and are what we would typically feed him anyway. He has brown rice, kale, sweet potatoes, and eggs or chicken. We prepare it ourselves—and we eat it ourselves, too! Well, I don’t eat the meat because I’m vegetarian. I’ve turned down so many dog food brands.
That’s huge of you—dog food companies have all the money!
It’s so hard to turn down these opportunities. I wish I could show you all this stuff. When people post a different dog food every month, I get concerned. I hope they’re not feeding their dog a different food every month—which is a separate issue because that means you’re just promoting something that you’re not really doing. It’s a trust factor.
I think it’s so important to set boundaries as a content creator.
Dogs can’t speak for themselves, so you as the dog parent need to be discerning of what you feed to your dog.
You’re a dog mom first, content creator second. What does Gus’ grooming routine look like?
We go to professional groomers because I know my limitations. I usually just show a picture of how the last groom looked and he comes back in a few hours looking perfect. We do that once every two months because it’s so expensive. But they do such a good job that we don’t need to do much upkeep. Every time we take a walk, we sanitize his paws with paw sanitizer spray and wipes. We use Soos Natural Dead Sea Leave-In Pet Conditioner and give him a rubdown. We also give him Bocce’s Bakery Good Hair Dailies. His coat is amazing.
That’s amazing that Bocce’s making supplements! Artemis is so picky about her supplements so I’m always looking for supplements that actually taste like treats. Got any New Year’s resolutions related to Gus?
The biggest one is getting out with him more. I had an aha moment in October. I was working so much and I was like, why am I even doing this? It’s so we can do nice things, get outside, and explore the city. We can’t just stay in the apartment and do self-care. Gus needs to be a dog. I know he doesn’t think of himself as a dog, but he needs to get out.
Photography by Tayler Smith