Last night's viewing - Walking with Dogs: a Wonderland Special, BBC2; Paul O'Grady: for the Love of Dogs, ITV1

 

"My view is dogs are people too," said Marianne, at the beginning of Vanessa Engle's Wonderland film about the dog-walkers of Hampstead Heath. My view, in the interests of full disclosure, is that they're not. So I approached Walking with Dogs with a certain wariness.

 When someone is asked what their dog means to them – as several contributors were here – and they reply, "The whole world", I do not, to put it mildly, identify a kindred spirit. I should have been reassured by the director's name. Because although Engle's film began with an ominous display of doggy sentiment, it was very soon clear that it was people she was interested in and not their frankly interchangeable companions.

Real dog-lovers would yelp at such a suggestion, naturally – the unique and irreplaceable nature of their pet being a fixed element in their world view. But the truth is that most dogs are interested in pretty much the same things and it takes a very doggy person to sustain a conversation about them for longer than three minutes. Fortunately, Engle had spotted that the dogs might be a means to an end, a way to get into conversation with strangers and find out about their lives. She opened, in fact, with a kind of nudging hint about her enterprise here, featuring a dog-owning vicar who found that his black lab was a useful opening gambit for perambulatory pastoral work.

The theme that slowly emerged was of the dog as unwitting social worker, a four-legged crutch that had helped an extraordinary range of people get through difficult times in their lives. There was a certain amount of eccentrity first. Marianne, say, whose infatuation with "little white fluffy animals" had led her to design a range of Swaroski-encrusted dog accessories. Or the businessman who walks the heath with five bichon frisees, followed at a respectful distance by a Filipino servant to pick up the dogs' leavings. But the heart of Engle's film were those for whom the dog was considerably more than a pet. Warren, for example, whose lethal-looking French mastiff, Frankie, was notionally a steadying influence. Warren had spent three years in prison for GBH, but was touchingly abashed about the details and insistent that Frankie was a step up to responsibility.

You might reasonably harbour some doubt about Frankie's ability to keep Warren on the straight and narrow rather than bodily tug him off it. But there were more reliable case histories. That of Zen, say, a boisterous pit bull who'd been picked up by his current owner, Martin, outside a dentist's 18 months earlier. Martin was a recovering alcoholic and his current bout of recovery, not coincidentally according to him, had lasted 18 months. Or there was Gilly, a woman who'd fallen on hard times after her partner walked out. Gilly wasn't managing to stay on the wagon quite as successfully as Martin. She'd been yellow carded by the homeless hostel where she lived for arranging an all-night party. But without the unjudgemental dependency of her weimaraner, Bluebell, you guessed that she might not still be there at all.

All the cutesiness that Engle managed to avoid appeared to have been siphoned off and injected under pressure into Paul O'Grady: for the Love of Dogs, a sickly combination of anthropomorphism (Ah! look... Paul's doggies are watching him on telly!) and animal hospital tear-jerking. In the final episode of the series (there have been no less than seven of these insults to the brain), O'Grady waved farewell to Battersea Dogs Home and took with him one of the Jack Russell-chihauhau-cross puppies that had done most of the heavy lifting when it came to making the audience croon. He also found a home for Rizzler the deaf samoyed. I'm glad Rizzler ended up in a loving home, but the programme itself needed to be bagged in plastic and disposed of in a responsible manner.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders