For dog's sakes: Paul O'Grady discovers how hard the Battersea Dogs Home staff work to care for their neglected residents
21:30 GMT, 31 August 2012
Paul O'Grady's new documentary series about the daily goings-on at Battersea Dogs Home is hard to watch without shedding a little tear.
You see all of life in each 30-minute episode – cruelty, neglect, stupidity, love, hate and the ability of the human and canine spirits to triumph together.
The documentary shows dogs being brought in, sometimes having been abused, and auditioning for new owners. But Ali Taylor, 46, head of canine welfare training, says, 'It's not just dogs coming in and being rehomed. We also work with young offenders on a rehabilitation scheme and try to educate owners.
Animal-lover Paul O'Grady with rescue boxer dog Carmine at Battersea Dogs Home where he has filmed a brand-new seven-part series about the shelter
'I like to think I don't only train dogs, I train people as well. Sometimes it's not just cruelty, it's ignorance. We get dogs for all sorts of reasons. One the other week was, “It doesn't match our carpet any more.” He was a beige mongrel. At least they didn’t dye him.
'But it makes you wonder – a dog was actually bought to match the house! We have a lot of bull terrier breeds because of the recent legal guidance [stipulating owners can be jailed for 18 months if their dog attacks someone]. We give every single animal that comes to the home a series of tests to see how quickly it adapts.'
Potential owners, too, are assessed and there is an attempt to make an ideal personality match. 'If you were looking for a new boyfriend, there are certain things you might be naturally attracted to – someone who's shy or someone who's active,' says Ali. 'You need to pick a dog the same way.'
One woman who benefited from this approach is Rachel Mailley, 34. She grew up around bull terriers, so they already had a place in her heart when she went to Battersea to find a dog. 'I looked around first and saw Frank bouncing about in the kennels,' she says. 'There was a cuteness about him I really liked.' Frank, a six-month-old Staffy, was brought to Battersea as a stray.
Rescue Dog Bonzo at Battersea Dogs home
'Then they said, “We've got the ideal dog for you,” and Frank came bursting into the room, ran to the toy box and gave us every toy in it to play with. So the dog they thought was perfect for me was the dog I'd chosen.
'When we took him home he had terrible separation anxiety because he thought he was going to be left again. But now he's over it – unless I get the cases out to go on holiday, when he'll panic and sit in one.'
Not all the dogs brought in are desperately ill or mistreated. Often a dog comes in because it's been spoilt and become unmanageable.
'People treat them like children, they're encouraged to jump on your lap and before you know it they can't be controlled and they end up here,' says Ali. 'One came in with its own suitcase of clothes, and I just thought, “You won't need that dress in the kennels.” You need to treat a dog as a dog, not as a human.'
The documentary focuses on the funny and the heartwarming too. It starts off with well-known dog-lover Paul O'Grady in a dog bed, begging the Battersea staff not to let him leave with a dog as he already has three.
He helps train some of the dogs to perform at Crufts, and assists vets during surgical procedures.
'People think it's all doom and gloom,' says Paul, 'but it's not. Battersea is a magical place. The staff work like Trojans. You'll see someone sitting in a kennel in their lunch break reading a magazine with two dogs on their knee, just keeping them company. The level of care is unbelievable.'
Though the darker side of Battersea's rescue work is not O'Grady's territory, we do see a dog called Sparkle, a mongrel who'd been dumped in a suitcase in a park. Sparkle was dangerously emaciated.
Staffordshire bull terriers like this little black puppy are the most commonly found dog at Battersea
The Battersea vet put her on a drip to try to bring her back to health. He didn't rate her chances but fortunately we see her thrive. A couple fall in love with her and take her home.
'There was nothing of her,' says Paul, 'she was a skeleton. But she's fattened up and gone off to a lovely home. It will break your heart when you see it.'
Paul took a particular liking to a Jack Russell pup called Bonzo and a white boxer called Carmine, who've both been rehomed. Carmine, now renamed Elvis, was brought to Battersea by a family when he grew bigger than expected.
New owner Roy Piggott says, 'When we met him he was full of joy. He wakes you by nuzzling his nose under the blankets. He's a lovely dog. How could anyone give him away'
The programme shows what an amazing organisation Battersea is, handling 500 dogs across three sites. But it relies on people's goodwill.
'It wouldn't be possible without the volunteers who help us,' says Ali. 'Around November we'll get dogs who've been spooked by fireworks, bolted and become strays.
'When the children go back to school we get dogs who are suddenly being ignored after six weeks of being with people, so become destructive.
In February it's dogs people have been given for Christmas and haven’t managed to house-train. But more and more often we're seeing happy results as the dogs are successfully rehomed.'
For The Love Of Dogs, Monday, 8pm, ITV1.