Chris Packham on his love for dogs and hosting the inaugural Dogstival
PUBLISHED: 10:37 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:37 17 May 2019
Wildlife campaigner, dog lover and New Forest local… Chris Packham is the perfect person to front Dogstival
A devoted conservationist and campaigner of wildlife injustice, New Forest resident Chris Packham CBE has graced our television screens for years, presenting many programmes dedicated to wildlife including, most notably, the BBC's BAFTA award-winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch series. Whilst his love of wildlife has remained a lifelong passion, it's his devotion to steadfast canine companions, Itchy and Scratchy, which has seen him crowned one of the nation's most renowned dog lovers. Becoming such an ardent dog fan was a matter of love at first sight for this broadcaster and committed naturalist.
"I was at my parents' house for Sunday lunch. My Mum had popped out and she returned with a small black bundle of fluff which was a poodle who went on to become Maxmillian de Bastardos, Emperor of Midanbury," Chris laughs. "Max became a focal point of family life. He unified the family. He was a very characterful, anarchic dog. I fell in love with a poodle in 1980 and it radically changed my life. I've had poodles ever since and I wouldn't have any other breed."
With such a penchant for poodles, it's no surprise that Chris was the top choice to host the New Forest's inaugural Dogstival, a fantastic celebration of 'all things canine' at Pylewell Park's 2000 acre estate near Lymington, taking place on May 18 and 19. Dogstival promises a family friendly weekend filled with an exciting array of displays and doggy activities, talks from canine industry experts and sessions tailored to helping you to get the best out of your pet. There'll be a chance to learn more about everything from nutrition to behaviour combined with plenty of fun, whether it's taking a dip in the K9 Aqua Splash pool or stopping to rest those festival weary 'paws' in a dedicated doggy pampering zone.
"Dogstival's a very progressive event around the canine community. It's about celebrating these animals for what they offer us in terms of our physical and mental health and what we can offer them in return," Chris explains. "It's very much going to be a learning environment for everyone who goes, including me, and you're bound to pick up some new tips. Scratchy's an old dog and he's learning new things all the time. It's about continuing to learn how to improve the health and wellbeing of our dogs."
Not only is Dogstival the only dog event to boast its very own beach, with views across to the Isle of Wight, but Pylewell Park's fields will also play host to a plethora of artisan producers showcasing the best of the New Forest's food, drink and craft scene and a vintage fun fair to boot.
Alongside his clear enthusiasm for dogs, it is Chris' love for the New Forest which makes him the perfect Dogstival host. No stranger to the area, having grown up in Southampton and studied at Southampton University, Chris has called it home for the last sixteen years having spent most of his life visiting it. A consummate champion of what the New Forest has to offer, his belief is that an event like Dogstival is an opportunity to address some of the challenges the area faces as visitor numbers continue to increase and more of us share this space with our four-legged friends on a daily basis.
"I'm a keen advocate of the New Forest. I'm always here to champion and celebrate this area because I think by celebrating it, we can get people to engage with it and better protect it in the future. We also need to speak quite pragmatically about some of the problems that it has," Chris continues.
"The way that people use the Forest has changed dramatically. The New Forest is beginning to celebrate itself and recognise its value which is a good thing. However, there are pressures. Humans do disturb wildlife but we've learned a lot about how to reduce that impact. There's a lot more of us, a lot more dogs, a lot fewer birds. We need to change our habits for changing times."
Keen to stress that Dogstival is about celebrating the immense enjoyment having a dog offers, first and foremost, as well as building on that bond which owners and their dogs share; Chris reflects that the event offers a unique opportunity to talk about responsible dog ownership too.
"It's a chance for dog owners and visitors to the Forest to show how much they do value it and want to play a role in protecting the New Forest's future. Dogstival is very Forest centric so it's designed to use the New Forest as a case study on the impact and benefits of dog walking in this area. We all have a responsibility if we want this place to retain its natural value. Dogstival has a chance to raise some of these issues, change hearts and minds and set that process in play."
When it comes to heralding the benefits of owning a dog, Chris has talked candidly about the enormous impact sharing his life with dogs has had on his emotional and physical wellbeing, highlighting their importance when it comes to his mental health and the reality of a life living with Asperger's Syndrome. He even dedicated his new autobiography, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir, to his dogs.
"I always called them (Itchy and Scratchy) my joy grenades because I'd take them out, pull out the pin and they'd just explode with joy. It was utterly infectious," Chris shares. "That guarantee of happiness, the security of knowing that despite whatever else is going on in your life, you can make yourself happy through the simple connection with another species is absolutely priceless."
Sadly, Itchy passed away a few years ago but Chris' bond with fifteen-year-old Scratchy has gone from strength to strength through difficult times for them both, especially as Scratchy has experienced serious bouts of ill health recently. It's clear that they are the best of friends.
"We've formed a close bond. We share the space, the sofa, the bed, my food, everything… and that builds our relationship. He's very devoted to me but that cuts both ways."
So what can we expect from a day out at Dogstival? From Chris' perspective, it's a reinvention of the traditional dog show - an opportunity for likeminded people to get together and share ideas, he proposes.
"Everyone who goes will learn something - whether it's welfare, nutrition, behaviour, training or wellbeing. That's the joy of it. You'll be able to come along and dip into all sorts of things.
"Being able to come to something like Dogstival and meet dogs is an enriching experience for anyone who is thinking about getting a dog," adds Chris. "It's a chance to come together, share ideas, celebrate the best parts, question the bits that aren't working and openly discuss them because we want positive change. To do it here in the New Forest, which is famed for its dog walking, is the perfect thing."
Dogstival takes place from 10am to 6pm on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 May 2019 at Pylewell Park, Lymington, SP41 5SJ. Tickets are priced at £13.50 for Adults, £7.50 Children aged 6-16 years, under 6's go free and are on sale now at Dogstival.co.uk.
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