Interviews

Pete Wicks: ‘I Prefer Dogs to People’

Pete Wicks joined ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ in 2015 and since then hasn’t really been out of the headlines. But he admits he’s happiest when he’s at home with his dogs and the “TV stuff” fits in around what he’s passionate about: dogs and animal welfare.

Having been actively involved in campaigning for animal rights for some time, he recently travelled to South Korea with the Humane Society International to help shut down a dog meat farm, saving over 170 dogs lives in the process. And last year he published a book, ‘For the Love of Frenchies’, inspired by his own beloved dogs, Eric and Ernest (not forgetting Peggy, who he adopted a year ago).

Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine / Shot at The King's Head in Essex

Hi Pete, thanks for chatting with us today.

Hi!

We met your two dogs, Eric and Peggy when we shot with you. Tell us a little about how each dog came into your life.

Well, they’re both rescues. Eric is the oldest, he was rescued from Lithuania. He was smuggled into the UK in the back of a lorry with his brother to be sold.

I first saw him when I was doing some press work with my previous Frenchie, Ernest who unfortunately died when he was three. I was at a rescue centre and they told me they’d had some French Bulldogs in and when I met him I just fell in love with him.

He was in rescue with his brother, but his brother had got a new home and Eric hadn’t. I just couldn’t leave him so I ended up taking him (laughs).


Eric and Pete / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

A bit of fate intervening maybe.

How about Peggy?

Peggy came from a charity called French Bulldog Saviours, who I’m an ambassador for.

They rescue, adopt and foster up and down the country. They’ve just been out to China to rescue some French Bulldogs and I’m hoping to go back with them later in the year.

French Bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds in the UK now but there are a lot of bad French Bulldog breeders that end up breeding dogs with so many health issues, such as heart or breathing problems. So many problems stem from bad breeding because people want the breed because they’re a cool dog to have, not actually realising the history or where they come from, and then they dump them because they don’t want to pay the vet bills.

Peggy was one of those dogs. She had an ulcerated eye that was left untreated and she lost her eye, so she’s just got the one.

When I saw her I ended up falling in love with her, so she was brought down to see me and meet Eric and the two of them just fell in love and that was it.


Peggy and Pete / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Are they similar characters?

They’re completely different personalities. Peggy is a lunatic, she’s an absolute nutjob. I think she’s part French Bulldog, part gazelle. She’s super energetic. She had some behavioural problems that I’ve done quite a lot of work on, she’s not a massive fan of other dogs.

But she took to Eric from the start?

Yeah. But Eric’s the most submissive dog in the world though. He’s a bit of a doughnut, he’s that sort of dim, doughnut dog, if you know what I mean. He’s really relaxed and really chilled, whereas she’s just a lunatic.

She’s the boss without a shadow a doubt.


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

What’s the age difference between them?

Eric turned four this year and Peggy’s just over a year old.

Peggy was around six months old when I adopted her and Eric was about three and a half months old.

You touched on some of the problems facing French Bulldogs. As you said, a lot of people fall in love with the look of the breed when they see photos and hear people talking about them.

Based on what you know and have seen through your work with rescues, what do you think is the best way forward for the breed to improve?

You know, I had a book out last year called ‘For the Love of Frenchies’ and a lot of that was to do with the problems facing French Bulldogs now that they’ve become a designer breed, similar to Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Pomeranians where people just want that sort of dog. The problem when a breed becomes so popular is that it becomes a money making scheme for some people.

French Bulldog Saviours deal with an awful lot of female dogs who are just used to churn out puppies that can be sold for thousands of pounds and the problem is because they’re quite a small dog, the people who get them aren’t necessarily dog people. They’re people who just want a designer dog as an accessory. They don’t actually understand everything that comes with owning a dog, especially a French Bulldog.

There’s so much mistreating of dogs, not just French Bulldogs but all sorts of dogs. It’s too easy to get a dog, dump them and treat them badly. I’ve said for a long time that there should be some kind of licence that you need to have to be able to own a dog.

Owning a dog is a responsibility that people need to understand. It’s a very hard thing to crack down on because there’s always going to be people who find a way to breed dogs and there’s always going to be people who want to buy dogs. I just find it baffling that people see buying a dog as a purchase, rather than what it actually is, which is giving a life to a living thing, you know?


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

It’s a real tough dilemma, how we improve things, to be honest with you. Really, I do think it comes down to licences. Shutting down third-party puppy sales will go a long way to helping, but there’s no easy answer. People need to think about why they’re getting a dog, making sure they’re doing it for the right reasons and be aware of the responsibilities involved.

People who think “I want to get a French Bulldog and I want to have it from birth and see it’s mum” need to know it doesn’t really mean anything because of the sheer volume of bad breeders only in it for the money.

There are so many dogs in rescue now, especially French Bulldogs, and some people don’t even think about getting a rescue dog. They think “I don’t know where the dog has come from”, “I don’t know this or that”, but it’s not always the case that when you get a dog from a breeder you know the answers to those things anyway. A lot of the time you don’t. And then when the dog ends up with breathing problems or BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome), which affects breeds with flat faces like French Bulldogs, people decide they can’t or don’t want to deal with that and they end up dumping the dog in shelters, or worse, and that’s how they end up in rescue.

It’s surprising just how many breeds like French Bulldogs are in rescue now compared to only a few years ago for the reasons you’ve mentioned.

Definitely. That’s why I always talk about ‘adopt don’t shop’.

I think everyone likes the idea of having a dog but not everyone understands what’s involved. I haven’t got kids and I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who does, but I think it’s very similar. A dog’s a living being that’s effectively dependent on you and if you’re not in a position to be able to care for them in the right way, then you shouldn’t have a dog.

I think a lot of it comes down to lifestyle as well. People picking the wrong breeds for their lifestyle. If you’ve got a super energetic lifestyle and you’re running up and down mountains every day then a French Bulldog probably isn’t the best dog for you (laughs), you know? Equally, if you live in a one bedroom flat in the centre of town, you shouldn’t get a Husky, do you know what I mean?

I just find it absolutely baffling that people don’t do enough research and research is what it comes down to. Research the breed you want and really think about whether your lifestyle is right for even owning a dog in the first place. And if you’re not sure, don’t do it, even if you want one, just don’t do it because actually what you’ll end up doing will be detrimental to both you and the dog.

I don’t deny that some people who give their dog up because they can’t cope don’t love them, I’m sure they do, but maybe they just didn’t think it through in the first place and people shouldn’t make rash decisions, like getting a dog without doing proper research.

Where does your love of dogs come from? Did you own any dogs growing up?

Yes, we had a rescue dog when I was about 10 called Arnie. He was a Border Collie mix and that’s where it all started for me. I was obsessed with him.

And before Peggy and Eric, I had Ernest. He was my first French Bulldog.

I got Ernest from a breeder, exactly like everyone else does. I knew I loved French Bulldogs and I wanted a dog, but really, I didn’t know enough about them.

Ernest had heart problems and he had a heart attack at three because it wasn’t a great breeder that I got him from. I didn’t research it and I didn’t look into it. Ernest he taught me an awful lot so it’s because of him that I wrote the book.

The book’s based on French Bulldogs because that’s a breed that I know a lot about now but it’s more about letting people know “this is what happened to me and this is what I learnt from it”.

Owning a dog changed my whole life. It changed everything. You can’t just decide to go out for dinner and stay out until 4am, you have a living being waiting for you at home, relying on you to get back.

My dogs have changed my whole life, 100% for the better. They’ve made me more responsible and that’s what I try to get across. It’s a big responsibility and you can’t take it lightly.


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Visiting China with French Bulldog Saviours later this year won’t be your first trip overseas to save dogs. I know you’ve also been to Romania to rescue stray dogs and more recently to South Korea to rescue dogs from dog meat farms.

How did you get involved in the work?

It started because I’d been doing quite a bit of UK animal rescue work and ended up going to Parliament with HSI (Humane Society International) for an exhibition they were doing and within about 10 minutes of being there I spoke to a lady called Wendy and I said “I want to help, what can I do?”.

Before the exhibition, I didn’t know much about the dog meat trade and I was in floods of tears at what I saw. A lot of people hear stuff about what’s going on and it’s easy to say “I don’t want to see or hear that” and listen, it is awful but as soon as you start burying your head in the sand then nothing gets done, nothing changes and dogs suffer.

So, after speaking with Wendy I went over to South Korea with them [HSI] and I think that experience is probably one of the most life changing things that’s ever happened to me. It was just horrific. No amount of videos or pictures could have prepared me for the grim reality of what actually happens to the dogs.

Emotionally, it was a real shock to the soul. The sounds, the smell, the distress you can see the dogs going through, it was just horrific.

But, on that trip, we rescued 174 dogs. Most went to the US and Canada and 14 came back to the UK, all rehomed, so that sense of being there and actually doing something and making a difference, I mean, you can’t beat that feeling.

I think sometimes people look at things like the dog meat trade and think “well, what difference can I make?” but in my view, if you can make a difference to just one dog’s life then it’s worth doing.

You know, there’s 17,000 dog meat farms over there and over 2 ½ million dogs are eaten each year. It’s ridiculous.

What you saw must have had a lasting impact on you?

Definitely.

Some of the most heartbreaking things I saw were the dogs' reactions. Some were so scared they wouldn’t even come near us, and then you have others who were slightly aggressive because they don’t know anything else. If you think about the humans they have known you can understand their reactions being fight or flight. But if you spend 10 minutes, just 10 minutes, showing kindness and love, they’ll start playing like any other dog, rolling over for fuss.

It baffled me how they forgave me, another human, so quickly. Dogs forgive and they love unconditionally, and that was the saddest thing for me.


Eric pictured with his Ground Pursuit ball from Chuckit! dog toys / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

That’s mindblowing.

It is. That’s why I prefer dogs to people really. I can’t stand people. (laughs)

Have you met up with any of the dogs who you saved on the trip?

Yes, one of the dogs we rescued, Adam. When he arrived in the UK I fostered him for a few days to get used to being in a home environment because he’d never seen a sofa before, he didn’t know what a TV was, so many things - like grass and even cars - were new to him.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Pete Wicks (@p_wicks01) on

I know a lot of animal rescues really love fostering out because it makes such a difference to the dog, like you say, getting them used to a home environment and it often means there’s a lower bounce rate of dogs being returned.

I completely fell in love with Adam (pictured in the Instagram post above) because you really do realise, when you’re with a dog whose life could have had a completely different ending, why you do this stuff.

I’ll never forget the trip and I’m hopefully going back out there later this year to do the same thing.

Mentally, as an animal and dog lover, it’s torture but in the grand scheme of things, it’s minimal compared to what the dogs have been through.

A lot of what I’ve tried to do since getting a bit of a platform because of the TV stuff is just to raise awareness, so I’ll always talk about what’s going on, sharing photos and stories on Instagram and I know some people don’t like it, which baffles me if I’m honest because people need to see it, they need to know about it.

By seeing it, I really believe we can do something about it. Even if it’s something small, like volunteering at a local animal rescue, it really will make a massive difference to an animal’s life.

How do you balance filming TOWIE and your other TV stuff with your animal rescue work?

I’m generally all over the place and I do a fair bit of filming for different things but a lot of the animal welfare work can be done on social media and when I need to travel, it’s a case of just working it out. Some things are more important than others, you know?

How do Eric and Peggy handle you going away?

I’m really, really fortunate because my mum and my nan live fairly close to me so when I’m away the dogs are well looked after. Everyone just loves them. My nan treats them like the grandkids.

(Laughs) If I’m away for two days and they’re going to stay with my nan they get all excited about going and then when I pick them up to come home they’re like “No, I don’t want to go, dad”. She really does spoil them but I’m really fortunate to have her and my mum so close by.


Eric and Peggy pictured with their new treats, Pet Munchies / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Do you Facetime with them when you’re away?

(Laughs) So, yeah, I mean I know it sounds a bit nutty but I do. People say “I’ve just got to speak to the kids” and I’ll say “Yeah, so do I”, so they’ll say “I didn’t know you had kids?” and I have to clarify that I mean Eric and Peggy, my dogs.

The dogs just go mad when we do it. I mean Peggy, like I said, she’s just a lunatic so she just runs around like an absolute nutjob and brings her toys up to the camera to show me.

Peggy’s a real people person but Eric’s an emotional creature. He really suffers when I’m not around. He can get quite depressed so when I do come on the phone he gets all giddy and excited.

They’re angels, the pair of them.

Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Okay so full disclosure, our next set of questions are probably questions you won’t have been asked before - and probably won’t be again.

(Laughs) Okay.

You’ve already said that you prefer dogs to people, so getting back to that, if you were all to swap roles with Eric or Peggy for a day, who would you choose to swap with first of all?

Oh, I’d be Eric because he’s so relaxed and chilled.

I couldn’t be Peggy, I’d be knackered. She goes at 100 miles an hour, 24 hours a day and I think she’d get bored being me. She’d end up saying “Is this it? Is this all you do?”.

(Laughs) Fair enough. What would you love most about being Eric?

My life’s pretty hectic and nutty so I think I’d find it quite different just being able to sleep and eat, and be all relaxed and chilled.

I suffer a bit from insomnia so I’d get a really good night’s kip being him.


Eric and Peggy pictured with their new bed from George Barclay / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

How do you think he’d cope being you?

I know I’m going to sound like I’m talking about them as my kids again but the difference between me and Eric is that I’m quite confident and outgoing so I think it would be nice for Eric to be a bit more like that. He’d enjoy that I think. And he loves women, he’s a womaniser so I think he’d enjoy that too.

We ask all of our celebrities this question, it’s all in the name of fun.

(Laughs) Okay, go for it.

Based on personalities alone, which breeds of dog come to mind when you think of these four celebrities and why.

Chloe Sims - Oh that’s a good one. Chloe’s a bit like a Jack Russell. She’s got a big attitude and she’s a bit yappy. Lovely looking, but you don’t want to mess with her.

Martin Kemp - I love Kempy. He’s like a Labrador or a Golden Retriever. Beautiful to look at, very sophisticated, loyal and loving.

Kerry Katona - I think Kerry would be a Collie cross. There are all sorts of different sides to Kerry. There’s a bit of a nutty side, a warm and loving side and she’s got a lot of energy.

Kerry’s a great mum, a really good mum, and similar to a Collie, I think her wild side is sort of dampened down because she’s got a job to do, raising her kids. She’s very good at rounding people up too, she has to be being a mum, doesn’t she? (laughs)

Ricky Gervais - (Laughs) I’m going to say a Pekingese. Strange one I know, but I’m saying it because they’ve got this sort of air of arrogance about them but they’re allowed to have it because they’re a very magical dog breed and I think Ricky Gervais is similar to that.

I think he’s great and everything he does for animals is amazing but he does have that air of “I’m a little bit better than you”, you know, and that’s similar to a Pekingese. Behind that, they’re a beautiful, loving lapdog but you don’t always get to see that.

And what about you, what breed of dog would you each be and why?

(Laughs) I think I’d probably be a long-haired sausage dog. Short, yappy and slightly odd looking. I’d be falling over my ears like I fall over my hair.

(Laughs) Okay.

You know what, there’s actually a picture of a long-haired Dachshund with a man bun and it does actually look like me.

 

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A post shared by goliath_the_sausagedog (@goliath_the_sausagedog) on

Moving onto our quick-fire questions, tell us what Eric or Peggy last did to make you really laugh out loud.

Well, I have a lot of glass in my house and Peggy only has one eye and she copes with having just one eye really well, but her detection skills aren’t always very good, so she doesn’t always detect the right distance to jump onto the sofa, for example. Normally she makes it okay because like I said she’s like a gazelle - but where I’ve got a lot of glass at the bottom of a door, she sometimes forgets that the door might be closed and I’ll just hear a ‘bang’ and know that she’s run into it. She did that a couple of days ago.

(Laughs) I shouldn’t laugh but she’s always fine.

Eric has an underbite and he just has one of those faces that makes you laugh because he just looks miserable all the time.

Peggy rules the roost and Eric’s a real daddy’s boy. So Eric will get on the sofa to have some fuss and Peggy will get jealous and wiggle her way in between, moving him out of the way and what Eric does then is just sulk, so he’ll get down off the sofa and he just stands by the wall, facing the wall, and then just looks back at you with his underbite and sad eyes.

It always makes me laugh because he has a proper sulk and I mean I talk to my dogs like they’re my kids so I’ll say “Eric, what are you doing? Come on, stop sulking.” He’s such a doughnut, he makes me laugh every day.


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Where’s your favourite place on earth?

I love being in the sun, so anywhere in the sun for me, but the dogs don’t really like being in the heat.

I live quite close to Epping Forest and I love being in the forest with the dogs. They love it as well, especially during the autumn months when the ground is covered in mud and leaves, it’s like a little happy place for me.

I think any time you’re in the middle of a forest it gives you a bit of perspective and gives you time to think and contemplate life.

It’s honestly one of my favourite things to do with my dogs and they love it too, running around like lunatics - even Eric gets excited about it, and he doesn’t normally get excited about a lot (laughs).

The beach is good too but Eric doesn’t like water. He just sorts of steps around it. He’s one of those dogs who walks around puddles, so he much prefers the forest.


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Tell us something not many people know about you.

I talk to myself all day every day and have full on conversations with myself. My dogs too. Like, I’ll ask them what they want to watch on telly, I’ll talk about what’s for dinner, I’ll tell them about my day and ask them about their day too and I feel like they know what I’m saying.

I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. I’ll probably get sectioned for it later (laughs).

I think as long as it’s a one-way conversation you’re probably fine. If you start hearing voices and it turns into a two-way conversation you might need to worry.

(Laughs) I’m actually mental, aren’t I?

What do you think is the most important life lesson we can learn from dogs?

Love. Without a doubt, love. A dog’s love is unconditional and pure.

I think if more people were like that and less shallow and materialistic then the world would be a better place. I think that’s one of the reasons I feel so comfortable around dogs because they don’t give a monkey’s about what you’ve done before or what you’re wearing, all they want is to be loved.


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Finish the following sentence, my dogs are...my life.

And finally, this is always a tough question so you might need some time to think about it, but if your dogs could tell you one thing and one thing only, what would you ask them?

That’s a bit of a deep one.

I’d ask Eric if he missed Ernest because I had Eric and Ernest together and me and Eric, we went through a really bad time when Ernest died because it was so sudden.

Eric was the one who found Ernest after he had his heart attack and he woke me up. When I took him to the vets Eric came as well because I couldn’t leave him on his own and he’s never been the same in the car since then because we came back without Ernest.

We slept on the bathroom floor where he’d found him for three weeks afterwards because he wouldn’t go anywhere else. Eric really suffered, so yeah, that’s what I’d ask him.

That’s quite something to go through.

We had a year together, just me and him, before I got Peggy because we needed the time to grieve. We can never replace Ernest but Eric’s in a much better place now we have Peggy. He needs to be bossed about. (laughs)


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

What would you ask Peggy?

Peggy, do you know what, I’d ask her if she misses having a second eye because I find her inspiring. I know some dogs have three legs or one eye and get on fine but I just think she’s amazing because it just does not bother her in the slightest, so I’d just like to talk to her about what it’s like to have just one eye, if she misses it, if she feels different.

And I’d like her to say “No, dad, I don’t miss it at all” because it’d break my heart if she felt differently, even just some times.

(Laughs) Listen to me, I’m talking like they’re my kids again.


Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9Magazine

Have you ever wondered what accents they’d have?

You know what, it’s really funny, I have.

When I did my book I said if I had to imagine what they’d sound like I’d imagine Ernest would talk like a proper geezer and he’d sound like Ray Winstone.

Eric is a little bit dim and a little bit camp and I think he’d sound like Alan Carr, whereas Peggy, I think she’d be like Kat Slater. She’s a little bit bolshy.

So basically I have Alan Carr and Kat Slater, that’s an interesting mix, isn’t it.

That’s quite a dinner party! Many thanks for your time, Pete!

K9 Magazine’s Thanks Go To…

Chuckit! Dog Toys – For Their Dog Toys
George Barclay – For Their Luxury Dog Beds
Pet Munchies – For Their Premium, Gourmet Dog Treats

 

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