Paul O’Grady: For The Love Of Dogs
Published: Tue 23 Apr 2013
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Paul O’Grady is back where he belongs, at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, meeting the latest residents to trot through the front door. From assisting vets during surgical procedures, to hand-rearing puppies and helping to train a naughty beagle, Paul is determined to get his hands dirty like never before.
Paul meets the dogs who come into the home needing treatment, training and ultimately new homes. Every dog has its own story and each dog needs a new place they can call home.
There is nowhere quite like Battersea, which is tear jerking and uplifting in equal measure. And although Paul immerses himself in the positive work the charity do, he is also forced to confront the heart-breaking reality of stray dogs deserted on the streets and those left starving and mistreated.
In episode one, Paul falls in love with two-year-old Frankie, a British Bulldog with a huge personality and a very expressive face, who has problem with his legs. Battersea vet Phil can’t work out what the problem is but suspects it might be neurological. Phil says: “We’ve got some good friends at the vet college so we’re going to refer him up there for tests that we can’t do here in the home and get a better idea of what’s wrong with him.”
Next up is King, an English Mastiff, the largest dog breed in the world. He weighs in at 75 pounds and Battersea don’t even have a water bowl big enough for him. He looks intimidating but turns out to be gentle giant who loves to slobber and sleep.
King snores and has sores on his joints from sleeping on hard floors but there’s one big problem that must be resolved before he can be rehomed - he stinks! Poor King has a skin condition, which is similar to eczema in humans.
Paul meets him for the first time: “Hello fella, God he’s massive. What’s his surname, Kong? I’ve just got a bit of a whiff off him. It’s making my eyes water.”
King’s pong can be reduced with a regular medicated wash and Paul is given the unenviable task of helping to bathe him and improve his aroma, in a bid to get him a home. It’s not going to be easy.
While the vet waits for the test results to come back, Paul spends some more time with Frankie and their bond begins to grow. Paul says: “You’re very handsome Frankie, has anyone ever told you that? You’ve got nothing that can’t be fixed I’m sure.”
Battersea takes in any dog that comes through the gate and a litter of newborn puppies, who have been rejected by their Mum, have just arrived. The puppies need feeding every two hours, day and night, and some of the Battersea staff will be playing Mum for the next few weeks. But feeding isn’t the only maternal duty they have to deal with.
In order to encourage a puppy to go to the toilet on their own, the mother usually licks them on the bottom to stimulate their bathroom break. Paul is tasked with using a substitute to help the puppies and inevitably ends up with soaking trousers. Paul says: “I think this one’s got one coming, cos he’s making that noise that old people on commodes make. Oh look he’s peeing for England all over me. I don’t pee like that, let alone you.”
Finally, Frankie’s test results come back and after forming such a strong bong with his friend, the shocking results have Paul in tears. Head Vet Shaun breaks the news, “I’m afraid the news isn’t good. What we were all expecting was a disc compressing on the spine. But I’m afraid the bad news is, he’s actually got quite an unusual condition, a cyst on the spine. There are very few cases out there, it’s quite rare.”
With a potentially inoperable condition, Frankie’s chances of being rehomed fall sharply and Paul is devastated for his pal. Paul says: “I’m absolutely shell-shocked to be honest. I had no idea it could be this serious.”
But Sean has some good news: “We do have a potential home, a lovely lady who came here to get another dog and fallen in love with him. She lives down in Somerset. Lot of space, other dogs as well.”
There’s also some good news for King, a family have seen him on the website and decided to pay him a visit. After his medicated bath, he’s smelling must fresher but Paul has one last trick up his sleeve to help King appeal to his potential new owners: “Look what I’ve got for you, it’s a lavender bag. Old ladies put them in their knicker drawers but it makes handsome fellas like you smell nice.”
Having spent time with both dogs, Paul desperately hopes they can both find loving homes despite the problems they face. The magic of Battersea is in matching all kinds of dogs with all kids of owners.
Q and A:
The show is back for a second series, what do you think is the secret of its success?
“I think it’s because all the family can watch it. You can sit down with every age group. The kids love it. I’m always getting kids coming up to me about it. I think it’s just a feel-good show and it shows you the work that goes on at Battersea as well. People don’t know about what they do but it is remarkable. In this series we have nine puppies, rejected by their mum and hand-reared by the staff at Battersea. They take them home and they bottle feed them every two hours, then they come in and do a full day’s work. They’re totally committed. And that goes on for three weeks, every night.”
Which story has shocked you the most during series two?
“There’s a dog called Twinkle and I’ve never seen anything like it. She was in a dreadful state and as thin as a credit card. She was left tied to an electric gate, on the coldest night possible. The security guard had the good sense to turn the gates off and open them manually because if he’d opened them with the button they’d have crushed her to death. On the CCTV you see a fella tie her to the gate, get in the car and race off and it makes you sick. Shocking. What saddens me the most is I go in the kennel to see her, she doesn’t know me from Adam, but she’s all over me like a rash. She’s lovely, such a sweetheart. What you find with these abused dogs is they are so friendly, after what humans have done to them you’d think they’d shy away but they don’t. It breaks your heart.”
Do you find difficult not to get upset?
“I don’t like crying on camera, I don’t like seeing whingers on telly, but I really genuinely lost it with one dog this time. Mostly I get incensed when I see how badly some of the dogs have been treated. The neglect is despicable. How could anyone do that?”
Have you adopted any of the dogs yet this year?
“No, not this time, I did fall in love with a bulldog called Frankie though, and he’s just the business. Poor old Frankie isn’t well though, he’s not the prettiest dog in the pound and he wees on you. He’s semi-incontinent, but he’s just lovely. And I fell for him big time.
But I’ve learnt to act casual now and then when I get home I plot, thinking ‘I’m sure I can take that dog’. They’ve changed all the locks on the puppy place so I can’t get in there. The thing is I’ve already got four dogs, four barn owls, eight chickens, ten sheep and six pigs. It is a commitment, animals, and I’m lucky I’ve got people to help me because if I had to do it all on my own I wouldn’t be able to work. It’s full-time. When I get home from filming at Battersea my dogs sniff me and look at me like I’ve been unfaithful. It’s the equivalent of a bit of lipstick on your collar. But I’ve had to hold out this time, it’s not fair. If I wasn’t working, there’d be no stopping me.”
How did it feel to win the National Television Award for series one?
“I was so shocked. Because we were up against a baking show and the whole country’s gone obsessed with rolling pins and pastry, so I said we don’t stand a chance. I wrote everyone’s name down just in case I was caught out, but I really didn’t expect to get up.”
What do you enjoy most about filming this show?
“I look at dogs sometimes and think, you’re never going to get a home, and all of a sudden someone comes in and falls in love and goes, ‘Yeah I’ll have ‘em’. There are great big dogs and you think, ‘Who’s gonna have this?’ And off they go and get homes.
That’s the nice thing for me, seeing them rehomed. There’s a little one I’m mad on called Peter, he’s a Staffie German Shepherd cross and he’s just gorgeous. He spent all afternoon on my knee asleep. I think he’ll have a new home very soon though, dammit.
It’s also nice being able to spend a bit of time with the dogs. I just wish I was as good with humans as I am with animals!”
Any other stories that stood out for you?
“There’s a mother and daughter who are inseparable but the owner was unable to look after them and brought them in. They are devoted to each other. The mum had an operation and was just howling when she left her daughter. They were beside themselves and even after the operation the Mum was so distressed but as soon as you put them back together again, they settled down.”