On the fourth series of For The Love Of Dogs entertainer, TV presenter and author, Paul O’Grady, announced that it could be the last.
“I’ve had a great time in Battersea, but I’ve done all I can there. “It’s time to move on,” he said in 2015.
Fortunately for our nation of dog (and Paul) lovers, he’s clearly had a change of heart. For The Love Of Dogs is back on our screens for a fifth series and is, as always, doing very well in the ratings, proving that the pooches-and-Paul combo is as popular as ever. Paul is, of course, a bit of a national treasure yet, unlikely as it seems, he’s had a few doubts about the popularity of the show.
“I was talking about For The Love Of Dogs and saying that I didn’t know whether it had run its course and maybe people were sick of it,” he says. “I’ve done it for years now. But lo and behold, my radio show on Radio 2 was inundated with emails from people saying ‘you can’t quit’. And I’ve had taxi drivers and people in supermarkets saying to me, ‘You’re not giving it up are you?’. So I’m doing another series. If the punters want it, then I’m more than happy to do it. That was just my insecurity thinking maybe they didn’t.”
Perish the thought! There are several dog-centred shows on television, yet this one is by far the most popular. Paul’s assessment is typically modest. “I’m not sure what the secret is – it’s just me with dogs.
“Perhaps it’s because you get a story and because it’s a feel-good show. Like Long Lost Family, you might start off with a terribly sad story but it finishes with a happy ending.
“I’ve learnt from talking to the viewers that they like my relationship with the animals.
“When you are watching the show you are watching me playing me. There is no script. It's all ad lib. We just go in and do it.”
And we also like the fact that Paul is very hands-on in the programme. He doesn’t just narrate the stories but often gets up close to the dogs, sometimes even lying on the floor to give one a cuddle. But as much as we love those moving moments, Paul also feels that it’s also important to show the reality of life at Battersea.
“There’s a lot wrong with some animals and they need operations, which can be traumatic and that needs to be shown. And dogs that are too ill or too old to go on have to be put to sleep. No one wants to see it, but it’s part of Battersea and I feel it needs to be shown. People have to know what happens when you neglect an animal.”
It’s certainly not a job that Paul, who’s an official ambassador for Battersea, finds easy to shake off after a day’s filming.
In the past he has spoken of how he sometimes goes home after a day’s filming upset and worried. “You get involved and wonder if a dog’s ever going to get a home and you become obsessed. If I could take them all, I would. The highlight for me is always when an animal gets a home. When I find out that has happened, I’m over the moon.”
The dogs that need rehoming when their owners have passed away particularly get to Paul. Speaking recently Paul said: “Poor little things, they will be 14 and all of a sudden they find themselves in a kennel with people staring at them. But there is always somebody who will come in and out of pure kindness take them home. You see the good in people, as well as the bad in there.”
Battersea also gets a lot of pedigree dogs, not because they have been dumped, but because circumstances have changed. People might have lost their homes and had to go into rented accommodation or a divorce where no one keeps the dog. “That wouldn’t be me, I’d chuck the wife out, no problem, but I’d hold on to the dog, ‘You pack your bags but the dog is staying’!”