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28 August 2012

A Q&A with Paul O'Grady, about his new show For The Love Of Dogs

How did the series come about?
Well I’ve always said, ‘please can I do a show with animals?’ because I like them and I get on well with them. When I used to do the tea time show, I’d have a chicken sitting on my desk, or a monkey on my shoulder. So it seemed the natural thing. Originally it was supposed to be filming for six days and as soon as I heard it was Battersea Dogs Home I said yes instantly. And four months later I’m still here. You’ve got to give it 100% if you come into this place. You can’t just idly wander around. I said, ‘six days, what am I going to achieve in six days?’ And so four months later… and I keep hearing people say ‘is he still here?!’ Once I became really involved, I’d go home and worry about the dogs. I’d be ringing friends saying ‘I’ve found a lovely dog for you’. The aim of the game for me became to rehome these dogs. To show all the work that Battersea does but also, to get people interested. Genuine people who are looking for a dog, to come here. I’d like to see, at the end of the day, this place empty. All go off to nice homes. Hopefully, after watching the programmes, that what’s going to happen.

Have you enjoyed the experience?
Hand on heart. This has been one of the nicest jobs I've ever had. Battersea is a magical place. People think its all doom and gloom but it's not, it's such a happy place. I've had a ball. It’s such an enriching place to work and I'm coming back. They can't get rid of me. The staff are lovely. They work like Trojans and my God, they care. The compassion they show these animals. Do you know what’s really touching? When you walk past a kennel and there’s someone sat in there reading a magazine, with a couple of dogs on their knee, just keeping them company in their lunch break. The level of care is unbelievable.

What can viewers expect from the series?
I can’t usually watch myself because I’m my worst critic. But I had to watch the series to do the voiceover. So I roped some friends in to watch it with me, from all aspects of my life – in the business and not, men and women. And it’s had the same effect of all of them. They’ve all blubbed like fools. Poor old Chad, a friend of mine, he cried for two hours. But then you are also sat with that rictus grin. The one you used to get whilst ironing watching Surprise Surprise, when your face would be sore from grinning for an hour. It’s that. And there’s bits of nonsense I do, where I’m trying to steal Carmine every episode. Carmine makes those scenes. We play Disney villains and he skulks across the yard. He had such a lovely soul that dog.

We follow the stories of the dogs each week so everything has got a beginning, middle and end. You see the dog coming in and if it’s a sick dog, it’s recovery, and then rehoming it. And then there is a home visit and you see how the dogs are getting on. There’s one story with two dogs called Heidi and Oliver. These two guys saw them and just loved them. They took the dogs and you see them together in this kitchen with their baskets and it does your heart good. You just think, job well done there. It’s brilliant, really nice.

When did you become such a dog lover?
I’ve always been animal mad. I had a grass snake as a kid. And a ferret called Sukey. She was my favourite. My mother would say ‘get that rat out of here’. But with the work I did, pubs and clubs every night all over the country for years and years, living in a flat, I couldn’t really have a dog. I had two cats, goldfish, canaries…anything I could have in a small flat. Then as soon as I moved to Kent, I had a goat within two weeks. That was it. I thought ‘I’ve got all this land, I can fill it with animals if I want. Which is what I’ve done, I’ve got the livestock. Sheep, I love sheep. Pigs I’m crazy for. Even Owls. And dogs, I couldn’t imagine life without dogs. If I haven’t got them with me and I’m staying in London it feels odd. People tend to think you either like animals or you like people. And that’s it. And if you like animals you’re eccentric, which I am I suppose when I’m talking to chickens. But I like both and I don’t see why you can’t.

What has been your favourite moment during filming?
There are just so many. They are like Cinderella stories. Look at poor old Bourbon, who was left tied to the gate, heavily pregnant. She was in a terrible state. She smelt of neglect. And yet so good-natured, despite being abused. She had a C-section on her puppies and now she’s gone to a good home. It’s so lovely. I got to bottle-feed the puppies, which was just heaven on a stick for me.

I competed in the dog agility at Crufts which was fabulous. I’d never been there before. I tell you what, give me Crufts over the Oscars any day of the week. It’s far more interesting. Me and the staffie Frank were at Crufts together, I couldn’t believe the effect that had on people. On the radio show we were inundated because I said that I loved staffies. They get such bad press.

Then there was Bonzo the puppy, who is like something off a chocolate box that Disney would paint. Even if you weren’t a dog lover, you’d be gone. He went off to Neil Fox and Neil’s lovely kids in one of the episodes.

It’s just all been an absolute joy. Everybody knows Battersea Dogs Home, it’s one of the jewels in London’s crown I think. I’m hoping that people will watch this programme and see what a happy, professional environment it is. The dogs get everything, full medical, assessed, the lot. They go to the right people. I think a lot of people are going to be amazed when they see it. It’s a very happy show. But there are some very sad bits too.

What the most upsetting story you came across?
Sparkle. I’ve never seen a dog like that. I’ve never seen anything like that. And it made me sad. I thought we were a nation of dog lovers. How can you do this? I always think that it’s a very fine line with abuse. If you can do that to a dog you can do it to a child, to a person. Easy. She was found in a South London park in a suitcase, with a polythene bag over her. There was nothing of her, she was a skeleton. It was dreadful. But she’s fattened up and gone off to a lovely home. It will break your heart when you see it. And do you know what’s so upsetting, she was still, after this abuse, trusting and loving. That’s what I found really upsetting. When I went in, she didn’t know me, but she was all over me. And you’d think she’d be wary of the human race now but no, there was still that trust. I’m glad I’m not a magistrate, put it that way.

It’s the cowards that get me. I want to say just bring it in and say ‘look I can’t look after this dog any more, I’m sorry’. Don’t leave it in the park or tie it to a railing. People aren’t going to bite your head off.

If you’re getting older and you can’t manage your dog, that’s heart-breaking. Old couples handing over their old dog. That kills me and they’re so reticent. It can be hard – often it’s the vets’ bills that cripple people. If you’ve got an operation due and you can’t afford it and you don’t have vets insurance...

Were you attempted to adopt any of the dogs you met during the series?
I did. His name is Eddie and it was the final day of filming. I’d held out all that time. I said before I started that I wanted it in my contract, that under no circumstances was I allowed to go home with anything from this place! And of course I cracked. I think it was the last gasp really. I’d been here this long. I wasn’t going home empty handed. Since Carmine had gone, the great love of my life. But he was so big and I was worried with having three dogs already. Plus I thought I was going away on tour so I couldn’t take a dog home and not bond with him and go away and vanish for two months. That’s not fair. So very reluctantly I let him go. But on the very last day of filming we were with these puppies again and I’d been told they’d all got homes so I was quite happy. And this little fella came skipping out. And Shaun (the vet) said this is the only one without a home. And that was that. If we do another series, God help me. I’ll probably have a Staffie next because I’m Staffie mad. They get a hard time. But you don’t get bad dogs, you get bad owners. It used to be that if you came anywhere near me you got handed six eggs. Now you’ll get a Staffie! It’s lovely when you see a dog get a new home.

‘Paul O’Grady: For The Love Of Dogs’ is brand new and exclusive to ITV1. Mondays from 3rd September at 8pm.


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