“It’s basically First Dates for dogs and people love that idea.” This is how Helen Prestage, a staff member at animals’ charity Wood Green, summed up The Dog House, the new Channel 4 series that she and her colleagues star in. The show aims to match prospective owners with a dog in need of a loving home. It hits all the same beats as the channel’s much-loved dating show: shots of nervous arrivals waiting are juxtaposed with talking heads in which they explain what they’re looking for in a pet, and elaborate on any sob stories that might have led them to search for companionship on screen. The staff of Wood Green, who soon become familiar faces, provide us with continuity across the episodes, explaining the thought process behind their matchmaking attempts and offering maxims on the value of pet ownership. Then there are the canine-human meetings: nerve-wracking, often awkward, sometimes disappointing, occasionally magical.
The Dog House is undoubtedly fluffy programming. It is also what a friend calls “a 30-minute TV show in an hour-long slot”, with the build-up before owners meet pets overly drawn out. But it is irresistible to me. And it can be surprising. A family with a dog-phobic child takes home a puppy called Daisy, but has to return her when their daughter’s fear doesn’t abate. A gay couple finds they become even more committed to each other after they take home Chihuahua Knobby. And a nurse who was in prison after assisting the death of her mother, a terminally ill cancer patient, finds some hope for the future by adopting a traumatised Staffie. Viewers who are dog-loving, sentimental or hungover (or, in my case, all three) may find their eyes growing mysteriously wet.
This article appears in the 09 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The fantasy of global Britain