'Ignore the haters, Alison Hammond is the right fit for For The Love Of Dogs'

The ubiquitous Alison Hammond has been handed the leash on Paul O'Grady's beloved ITV show

The ubiquitous Alison Hammond is the new host of For The Love Of Dogs. (ITV)
The ubiquitous Alison Hammond is the new host of For The Love Of Dogs. (ITV)
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When Alison Hammond was announced as the new host of ITV’s pet-rehoming show For The Love Of Dogs, it would be fair to say the news drew a mixed response, babs. Some viewers felt that the programme should have ended completely, as the ultimate mark of respect to its original and long-running host Paul O’Grady who died in March of last year.

Others were dismayed to see that ITV had chosen a presenter who was already well on her way to emulating the onscreen ubiquity of the likes of Bradley Walsh, Rylan and Paddy McGuinness.

There were also accusations that Alison was not the right fit for the show because she had never been a well-renowned dog owner or, they claimed, showed herself to be an animal lover of any sort.

The first of those complaints was plainly ridiculous. Even if you’d only ever watched one episode of Paul O’Grady’s eleven series (2012-2023) at the helm you would know that calling time on the show would have been the last thing he would have wanted.

Also, from a commercial perspective, there was no way ITV was not going to continue with it. It’s incredibly popular and fairly cheap to make — especially when you consider most of the cast is paid in doggy chews.

Paul O'Grady at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home with Peggy a Newfoundland. (ITV)
Paul O'Grady at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home with Peggy a Newfoundland. (ITV)

I could see why people were moaning about Alison being on TV too much though. It doesn’t help that only last week the BBC unveiled Alison Hammond's Big Weekend, yet another new primetime show that will be hosted by her. Fair play to Alison and her agent for making hay while the sun shines, but she’s been in the business for long enough to know that some kind of backlash was inevitable.

As for her supposed lack of affinity with animals? Well, she was hardly going to compare to Paul O’Grady was she? The man practically had a landed version of Noah’s Ark at his countryside smallholding in Kent. Even so, Alison did attempt to address the issue in publicity interviews ahead of her debut episode.

“I think I've got a natural affinity for dogs,” she told ITV’s Lorraine. “They just absolutely warm to me, they really warm to me. It's always been like that.”

Watch: Alison Hammond talks to Lorraine about For The Love Of Dogs

Obviously, we didn’t hear the dogs’ side of the story there, so I’m sure Alison won’t mind if people choose to make up their own minds once they’ve seen the show.

On that score, I think most viewers will be pleasantly surprised. I’m not one for predictions, but I would be amazed if Alison’s tenure on the show turns out to be a TV disaster on the scale of, say, Paddy McGuinness on A Question Of Sport.

Without wishing to go too over the top, based on this opener I’d say Alison has a lot in common with Bobby the 18-month-old spaniel/terrier cross who “certainly seems ready to learn” and has “got potential.” Although I’m no Graeme Hall, as far as I could tell the Battersea dogs didn’t seem to take an instant dislike to her. So I guess that was a good start.

Alison Hammond at Battersea with rescue dog Pip. (ITV)
Alison Hammond at Battersea with rescue dog Pip. (ITV)

The producers perhaps overplayed their hand with all that footage of Alison with cute puppies in this opening episode though. When they showed that shot of her cradling four newborn beauties under one arm I was a bit like, “OK, we get the message.” (Good job they weren’t Dalmatian puppies mind. The meme creators would be working overtime.)

What Alison will have quickly learned — as did Paul — is that the host is not the star of this show. The animals are. And, following a brief but respectful nod to Paul at the beginning of the episode, the animals soon took centre stage.

If you were looking to get a tough crowd onside early, you’d struggle to do better than a three-week-old puppy that had been dumped in a bin. So kudos to the production team for immediately hooking Alison up with the adorable crossbreed Oscar.

As well as guaranteeing millions of awws from the viewers — and that was even before he face-planted excitedly into his first tray of solid food — Oscar’s story also highlighted the serious side to the work done at Battersea. According to their figures, in the past year alone the number of pups being abandoned has risen by 50%.

In For The Love Of Dogs Alison Hammond meets Nelly, a nine-year-old spaniel. (ITV)
In For The Love Of Dogs Alison Hammond meets Nelly, a nine-year-old spaniel. (ITV)

Presumably in the interests of keeping things light, Alison did not speculate on the reasons for the increase. However, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that in a cost of living crisis pets can often prove to be an expense too far. It could be argued therefore that having For The Love Of Dogs on air right now is more important than ever.

It will never be the same as it was when Paul O’Grady was hosting, but as long as Alison keeps following his original pawprint it will be fine.

All we need to do now is come up with a hashtag that’s as catchy and memorable as Paul’s old #POGDOGS one. I would say #HAMDOGS, but I’m a bit worried that might make people hungry.

For The Love Of Dogs with Alison Hammond airs at 8pm, Tuesdays, on ITV, and streams on ITVX.

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