In this candid interview, the wonderful Clare Balding opens up to us about her life with dogs, some of her favourite dog-friendly activities and the pain of losing her beloved dog, Archie.
On her love of dogs
I love dogs because they are unfailingly happy and pleased to see you. You know, they wag their tails like billy-o, they grin at you, they jump up, they are just really excited to have human company. I love them for their loyalty and their sense of fun.
I think dogs have got it pretty much sussed - life is about eating, sleeping, exercise and love. And that’s very simple. I think our lives would be better if we believed that.
On growing up with dogs
Most of my childhood was spent surrounded by dogs and I think I believed I was a dog. I think that would have put me slightly higher up the pecking order in terms of family priorities. My parents adored their dogs.
We had Lurchers and Boxers and my first memory is of Candy the Boxer. She pretty much looked after me as a baby and I think saw me as her puppy. I was her responsibility and she was never more than two feet away from me. There’s a great picture of me as a baby lying with her and making a face quite similar to hers - you know, quite grumpy and wrinkled.
I just really enjoyed that freedom. I tried to sleep in their bed, I tried to eat their food, I tried to wag my tail as well. I ran around with them playing. We built them courses in the garden to try and get them to do agility courses – build them a Grand National course.
And I just remember my childhood being really happy because of that, being surrounded by dogs. I mean, we weren’t meant to let them upstairs but of course, I did, and my brother did as well. Yeah, it was a very happy time.
On making friends
We had Archie for over 15 years. I have so many happy memories of him and the friends that he brought us because he made friends with their dogs. Most of our friends in London are because of Archie, that’s the thing we have in common. We’re all from different backgrounds, do different jobs, went to different schools, we’re different ages – but our dogs were friends and therefore our main friend network is built around that.
Still now, one of our friends has got a CockerPoo called Betty who is so excited to hear a familiar voice that she will run across the park when she hears us talking. She’s straight up to us and just SO excited. Here is one of her mum's friends and she want to play!
On her favourite dog events
I love meeting different breeds of dogs that’s why I’ve presented Crufts for many years. Also, doing DogFest I get an opportunity to meet hundreds of different dogs, which brings me real joy. There’s nothing quite so good though, as the smell of puppies, oh! And playing with puppies and picking them up and just having them close to you - it’s so lovely!
On dog lovers who inspire her
Jade Statt would be my nomination for a dog-loving heroine. She set up the charity StreetVet which helps homeless people and their dogs if they need veterinary attention. And she has also raised money for a Pet-Friendly Hostel.
Far too often people are having to choose between either a roof over their heads or the company of their dog. And if you are a dog lover, you’re obviously going to choose your dog, even if that means sleeping out in the wind and the rain and the cold on the street. You are going to want your dog with you. So, hopefully, Pet-Friendly Hostels is a really positive step forward.
On her favourite dog walks
I would recommend walking in the winter. I love walking in the winter, there's hardly anyone else around unless they are walking their dogs. I think finding a really good forest path is a lovely thing to do.
I love walking along the river and actually this winter I’m doing the Thames path in different chunks of about 10 miles each. It’s quite a long way for smaller dogs to go but if you’ve got a big robust dog they’d love it. I’m really looking forward to doing that in different sections.
I think the main thing with dogs is exploring routes that they can enjoy, where there are lots of different things to sniff and get themselves dirty.
On dog-friendly pubs
Most pubs are dog friendly. Most don’t mind you bringing in your dog; which is great! We go to one fairly locally called The Swan in Chiswick. They’re fantastic because you can have the dog inside and there are all sorts of treats for them and they make life as comfy as they can for your dog. Most places have outside areas that a dog can enjoy.
It wasn’t a great idea to take Archie to a pub because he did like his food an awful lot. He just sat there, staring at your plate, he never really relaxed. He just wanted food.
Clare on losing Archie
It’s been a really emotionally turbulent year in terms of the pets in our family because Button, our cat, had kittens in the middle of the summer and not that long afterwards Archie was very much reaching the end of his life. We had to make that decision to take him to the vet and have him put down. I don’t wish that on anyone, you are sort of waiting hoping that something natural might happen but when you know the time has come you have to make that decision quickly; and our vets were absolutely brilliant. But it is hard and the grief is real and there is a real emptiness in the house.
I think that everybody that has ever had a dog as part of their family knows that losing them is painful, it really hurts and you carry on missing them. But my dad said something really good, many years ago. He said the difference with losing a dog as opposed to a human being is that you can fill that space. You can fill that hole, you don’t have to come down to an empty kitchen.
In terms of the routine - I miss having to go out and walk, I mean even on filthy days it was just nice knowing that was your role. The responsibility of it is very you know, you’ve got a job to do when you’re looking after a dog. It’s a real commitment. And while you think it might be freeing not to have to do that, you miss it when it's not there.
On getting a new dog
We will at some stage get another dog and that will be lovely. I met a Tibetan Terrier today actually called Shadow and she was absolutely adorable. She really was her owner's shadow, she just stayed by her, looking up at her. It was just nice to have a cuddle with somebody else’s dog, to be honest. I don’t know what breed we'll get but I do look forward to having a dog as part of our family again.