They say a man’s best friend is his dog and especially in Northern Ireland, our pet pooches really do seem to rule the roost
Research shows that we have the highest percentage of dog owners of any other region in the UK with more than a third of households being home to a canine family member.
To find out just why we are so in love with our dogs, we talked to four local personalities about their pets and why they couldn’t imagine life without them.
BBC weatherman Barra Best and his partner Colin Daly share their Belfast home with their beloved boxer Maggie.
The TV presenter readily admits that he is a big softie when it comes to indulging Maggie and can’t resist her pleading eyes.
He smiles as he confesses: “She knows right away if she gives you those big eyes when you are in the kitchen, that you will give her a treat.
“We try not to give her too many, but I have to admit that I do sneak her the odd one.
“She really is like a third person in the house. When you are making dinner, you make sure there is some for her and at bedtime she goes to sleep with a blanket over her.
“She won’t get into her bed if the blanket isn’t there. She’s spoiled but she brings so much to our lives as well.”
Barra, who grew up with pet dogs, adopted Maggie when he met his partner three years ago.
Now 13 years old, he says Maggie’s priorities are comfort more than exercise: “She is my partner’s dog and I have only known her for three years, but she is just part of the family.
“Because of her age there are no big demands with Maggie.
“She is not overly energetic but still enjoys her walks although she can’t walk as far now.
“When you take her out the door she refuses to budge if you don’t go in the direction she wants.
“She knows the park is to the left and if I go to take her to the shop which is in the opposite direction, she just plants her paws down and refuses to move. “
Barra (39) was just a year old when his family got a pet Labrador, Sam.
They were best friends for 10 years and when old age finally caught up with Sam, a distraught Barra and his family hadn’t the heart to get another dog.
It did however instil in him a love of animals which he says made filming his current BBC TV series Barra’s Wild Days Out extra special as it allowed him to get up close to a variety of animals.
“I grew up with dogs as my grandparents had Jack Russells and we had Sam,” he says.
“Sam was my whole life growing up. In the end he had to be euthanized because he was blind and deaf and had no quality of life.
“It breaks your heart when they die and it’s only in the past few years with Maggie that I have had a dog back in my life.
“I love animals and when I was growing up, I wanted to be a vet.
“That’s what is so good about my current series as I got to get up close to a lot of animals. I met alpacas and went to a petting zoo and farms which really made it a joy to do.”
Barra’s Wild Days Out can be seen on BBC 1 Northern Ireland on Wednesdays at 7.45pm
Broadcast journalist and presenter Nicola Weir happily holds her hands up to owning what could be one of Northern Ireland’s most pampered pooches.
And Poppy, the 10-year-old Cocker Spaniel, has not just one but two households spoiling her rotten!
Nicola lives beside her in-laws on the family farm in Co Antrim and Poppy worked out quite early that if she crosses the short distance to her grandparent’s house there would be extra treats to be had.
Nicola, who presents Farming Matters on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sounds every Tuesday evening, laughs as she says: “She has to be the best fed dog in Co Antrim, if not the whole of Northern Ireland!
“She has her own route to my mother and father-in-law’s house which is on the same farm as ours and she knows that she will get food and treats there.
“She has her own treat cupboard in my mother-in-law’s kitchen.
“Every week, even in the freezing winter, my father-in-law goes outside to barbecue chicken thighs just for Poppy.”
Nicola’s love of dogs started in childhood when she grew up with two pet golden Labradors, Honey and Sian.
She says Poppy came along at a time when she was yearning for another baby.
Her youngest child Imogen (16) was six at the time and son George (19) was nine.
However, husband Peter (49), who is a property support services manager, wasn’t so keen about getting a puppy as 47-year-old Nicola recalls.
“At the time I wanted a baby but my husband was terrified at the prospect of adding to our family so I thought a puppy could be my new baby.
“Peter didn’t want either and he was most reluctant to get a pup. When we got Poppy, she really was my baby, but he soon became absolutely besotted with her and he just adores her.”
And the kids too were very quickly won over by Poppy’s charms.
Nicola says: “I felt the kids were at a good age to bring a puppy into the house.
“I also thought it would be good for them to have that wee bit of responsibility. I know at first when a puppy comes into the house it’s all very cute, but the interest can soon wane.
“Being that wee bit older, George very much took responsibility for Poppy straightaway and his sister followed his lead.
“Poppy became a member of the family, although she remained my baby.
“I buy her the odd wee outfits which the rest of the family roll their eyes at!
“She has a smart new tartan coat and a Christmas jumper and a number of bow ties for special occasions like Easter and Christmas.
“I know people might call me eccentric, but she is part of the family and yes, I do admit that she is ridiculously spoiled.”
And it isn’t just Nicola and her family, but her in-laws Robin and Valerie Weir also lavish their love on Poppy.
Nicola says: “In our house Poppy has a jar of treats and she knows what cupboard they are in, and she will sit at it and bark to let you know she wants a treat.
“She loves Twiglets and would eat bags and bags of them if you would let her but of course we don’t give her too much.
“She makes her way over to my in-laws house every day where she knows they have a cupboard of treats for her as well, so she gets fed twice!”
As spoilt as she is, Nicola says Poppy gives everyone in the family as much love as they give her.
She adds: “Poppy is the light of my life, and she gives us so much love and really completes our family.
“When I go out to work in the morning Poppy stands at the door watching me go and then when I come home at night she jumps up and licks me to death and gives me loads of hugs and kisses. We would all be lost without her,” she says.
Nicola presents Farming Matters on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sounds, Tuesdays, 6-7pm
UTV’s Paul Reilly has not one — but two — little bundles of fur keeping him on his toes.
The reporter and presenter says his home on the Ards Peninsula is complete thanks to the characters which are
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Toby (12) and Daisy (8).
The pups were both re-homed by Paul and his partner. They got Toby when he was seven months old and Daisy when she was around two.
Paul also grew up in a family with a pet dog and believes a house needs a dog to feel like home.
He says: “You do get a sense of home growing up with dogs and having loveable wee pets around you.
“They are great companions and during lockdown they really got us out walking and it was lovely having them about the house and seeing their wee faces.”
Paul (37) and his partner visited a number of animal rescue shelters before finally finding their two pets that needed rehomed. Both dogs have big personalities and there is no doubt that it is the lady Daisy who is top dog in their household.
Paul says: “We had Toby for seven months before we got Daisy and they are great company for one another.
“There is just as much work with one dog as two and they are great together. They sleep in the same bed, and you will always see one resting its head against the other.
“They are both lazy wee dogs who like their walks but don’t like going too far. They love having a good sniff and lift their leg at every blade of grass so what should be a 10-minute walk usually takes about half an hour.
“The dogs I had growing up were Collies and Springer Spaniels which were very energetic and outdoorsy types of dogs but Toby and Daisy are lap dogs, they just want to sit and watch TV with you.
“Toby still jumps around like a wee pup even though he is 12 but he is easy going. Daisy is more of a princess; she is definitely the boss over Toby. She is a sketch,” Paul says.
“She makes these hilarious wee noises when she watches you eating and wants some. We call her ‘yum yum’ because we swear that that is what she is saying!”
U105 presenter and well-known sports journalist Denise Watson has her hands full with her six-stone German Short Haired Pointer, Eddie.
And while Eddie will happily chew anything in sight — including slippers, skirting boards and shoes — he is very much the king of the Weir household.
Denise laughs as she admits: “We have to make sure there is nothing lying around, or Eddie will have it.
“He particularly loves pillows, shoes and slippers. He would even try and pull them off your feet. We’ve had many things chewed to bits by him, so we’ve learnt not to leave anything lying around.
“He can even get up on the kitchen counters, so you have to be careful what you leave there. I came down one morning to find an entire kitchen roll shredded to bits all over the floor!”
Denise (50), who presents the breakfast show on U105 with Maurice Jay, lives in Lisburn with husband David (52), a medical researcher at Queen’s University and their two girls Samantha (17) and Beth (13).
They decided to add a pup to their family two and a half years ago.
For David, when he saw Eddie, it was love at first sight.
Denise explains: “David came across the litter online and he offered to drive down to see them, but he was only supposed to have a look.
“We had also wanted a female, but David says this wee one kept looking at him and he couldn’t leave him behind, so he came home with Eddie in the back of the car.”
Seven-week-old Eddie soon settled into his new home and two and a half years later he is a boisterous boy who loves his walks.
Denise says: “Eddie needs lots of exercise. I walk him at least three or four miles in the morning and he gets the same at night.
“His was bred for hunting so he loves getting a good run out, so we also take him to the Mournes or the local forest parks.
“If he sees a cat or another dog his paw goes up and you know he is going to take off and he is so strong now I can’t hold him when he is on the lead.”
When it comes to food, Eddie is no different to any dog who wants everything its owner is eating and more.
However, this particular pooch has developed a taste for human food thanks to the feasts his family serve him up daily.
No tinned dog food here, Eddie dines on cooked liver and mackerel.
Denise says: “He has to be healthy too, so we feed him well.
“He loves tinned mackerel and sardines and I sometimes look like a crazy woman in the supermarket with maybe 20 tins of fish in my trolley.
“He gets his kibble at night with a tin of mackerel which smells so bad!
“He also gets chicken and I cook him liver, but he goes absolutely daft for Tayto cheese and onion crisps.
“Even if he is in a deep sleep and hears you opening a bag he will be up straightaway. He loves putting his nose in the empty bag and licking the inside of it.”
Life without Eddie in the Watson household is already unimaginable.
Denise adds: “He is spoiled but he is very loveable.
“If two of us are sitting on the sofa Eddie will squeeze himself in between us so he’s comfy.
“It changes your life having a dog. I never realised just how much love you can have for an animal until we got him.
“He is just a part of the family.”