TV presenter Jasmine Harman is one of the famous faces in the new book Dogs and Their Faithful Celebrities by Dog's Trust. We caught up with her to talk about her beloved pet- Shadow- a Bernese mountain dog and why the project was so close to her heart.
'I wanted to be involved for two reasons' she said when I asked her why she wanted to be part of the book project. 'The main one is because Dog's Trust is a charity I have been a long-time supporter of. I love their ethos of never putting a healthy dog down. I think that they don't give up on dogs. It's not about anything other than trying to give dogs the best possible chance at a happy life that they can. I have been a long-time supporter of theirs.'
'A few years ago, before I had my children, I went to the arctic on a dog sledding trip to raise money for Dog's Trust. It took 10 days at minus 31 degrees so the main reason was because I wanted to support the charity again.'
'The other reason was that I thought it would be a lovely memento of Shadow who sadly passed as away a few years ago this week. In fact- I am actually passing the place where I scattered his ashes in a cab. That's bizarre isn't it?'
'I thought it would be nice to have a memento of him and something I can keep.'
Jasmine admitted that getting a dog was not something she considered lightly; 'It was a difficult decision to make. My husband was about to turn 30 and we were about to get married. I kept saying to him 'what do you want for your thirtieth birthday?'
'He said 'a puppy' and I said 'oh come on don't be silly- be serious what do you want? We can't just get a puppy on a whim'.'
'He said 'I want a puppy'.'
'As it turned out- I had a bit of a break from work. We knew we wanted to get a Bernese mountain dog. We always said if we ever got a dog it would be a Bernese mountain dog and we knew that we would call the dog Shadow.'
'We met a Bernese mountain dog once when we were filming together in Chamonix in France. This dog was just running around the town; it belonged to one of the estate agents and he really took a shine to Jon. He would just follow him around the town. We fell in love, but they are not very common breeds- or at least they weren't at the time- in this country.'
'I phoned the Bernese Association to see if maybe we could foster a dog- just to see if we were ready for a dog. They said to me that we couldn't because they have to have people who are experienced with these types of dogs because some of these dogs have come from difficult situations and they need to be in an experienced home. They did, however, know of a few reputable breeders who had litters coming. So I called one and made an appointment to have a look at a puppy. I didn't tell Jon- it was a complete surprise for him!'
It sounds like the timing was just right for Jasmine and her husband, she explained; 'We went and fell in love with Shadow. He was about 7 weeks old at the time so he wasn't ready to come home with us then but we decided to get a puppy. The reason it worked out so well was because I was off work so I had a lot of time to spend with him. It's like having a new-born baby- you have to spend lots of time with them- training, bonding, walking and making them feel like they are at home and part of the family. So that worked out really well.'
'It was just after we got back from honeymoon- we went and picked him up and he was like our first child.'
I was keen to know why Shadow became such an intergral part of the family; Jasmine revealed; 'I think all dogs do. People who have dogs as pets and people who have working dogs, but especially people who have dogs as pets- they are a part of the family, it's like having another child. They give you such unconditional love, they are wonderful for children to have a dog around. When I had Shadow- my favourite part of the day was when I would go out with him for a nice long walk, I would turn my phone off and you're just in nature. You're not looking at emails and you're not worrying about work or anything else, you're just focusing on you and your pet. There were some wonderful times and experiences we spent together. I'm sure I've read somewhere that stroking a pet releases the hormone oxytocin, which is the same hormone you get when you have a baby. It's the love hormone that makes you fall in love with them. Maybe it's just down to science! Whatever it is- he was an incredibly special part of our lives.'
'Also, once we decided we wanted to have a baby, we struggled to conceive for a long time. In a way, he really was our baby and there were times we thought he would be the only one we'd have! That obviously made him even more special.'
As a vegan myself I was interested to find out about Jasmine's view on the link between veganism and the love of animals. 'It's 100% interlinked,' she began. 'Some people don't eat animals because of the environmental impact that it has on the planet. It's the biggest cause of greenhouse gasses- it's killing the planet and the rainforests.'
'Other people don't eat animal products because of health reasons, there's no cholesterol in a plant-based diet, you're not getting saturated fats, so heart disease is much less likely. Diabetes and cancer- all of these things have been linked quite conclusively in many studies to the nutrition we put into our bodies. A plant-based diet is really helpful for that.'
'For me- I can't see the difference between eating a dog or eating a lamb. When there was the horsemeat scandal, I thought- what is everybody so worried about? I know there's a labelling issue but many people were less worried about the incorrect labelling and more worried about the fact that they didn't want to eat horse- but they didn't mind eating a cow. I couldn't get my head around that.'
'When I had my daughter and I had a hard time breastfeeding her but I really wanted to- it got me thinking about cows. I have been a vegetarian for a long time. As a very small child, I didn't want to eat animals and that was my reason- at six years of age that's why I became vegetarian.'
'But I thought- you don't have to kill a cow to milk it. When I had my daughter and I started breastfeeding, I started thinking about cows and how weird it is that they just produce milk for no reason- all the time. Then I realised that they don't.' This was something I was so grateful to Jasmine for sharing because I had experienced the same epiphany. She continued; 'they only provide milk when they've had a baby and the dairy industry impregnates them each year. Once the baby calf is born, they are pretty much taken from their mother straight away. If it's a little boy calf, it will usually be used for veal and if it's a little girl, it will be used for a dairy cow. Dairy cows are usually killed by about 4 years of age because they are spent and live horrible lives. I never realised that after 30 years of being a vegetarian. I never realised that milk was the same as eating veal. That for me was a big wake-up call- after I'd had a cheese themed wedding- I was a vegetarian!'
'I was completely unaware of the processes of farming that we use to produce milk, eggs and other milk products, even honey and things like that- I just didn't know. I feel very stupid now I do know that it took me all those years to realise. I feel very ashamed that as an animal lover, I thought I was doing my best already and was doing the right thing for the animals. Having educated myself on what really goes on- I am glad to say now that I do understand what happens and I don't want to be party to it anymore.'
We moved on to discuss what advice she has for couples who are looking to get a Bernese mountain dog; 'My one reservation when we were thinking about which breed to get- was exercise. I researched it and thought they are such big dogs they probably need loads of exercise- but they don't need loads of exercise. They don't need half as much as a beagle, terrier or collie- the very active dog breeds. They are actually low maintenance in terms of exercise.'
'What I had looked into and what concerned me was the life expectancy, which was very low. It was 5-7 years. Lots of them do live longer and I was convinced Shadow would be ones of the ones that got to 12-13 because he had such a good life. He had all organic food- he had everything a dog could possibly wish for- but the life expectancy is something to be prepared for.'
'They are the most wonderful, loving and cuddly dogs. They are not built for agility but I used to do agility with Shadow and he loved it- he absolutely loved it! He was really easy to train. Definitely be prepared for some serious amounts of grooming or you'll find them with dreadlocks behind the ears!'
'Goodness me- they are such wonderful, wonderful companion dogs. They really love having a job to do which is why he love the agility. Great with kids, great with other dogs- for me they are the best breed.'
'We used to take Shadow on holiday every year to France where we met the original Shadow so that he could go up in the mountains and see the snow. He absolutely loved it. They are not the kind of dogs that enjoy the heat. In the summer time, I had to get up very early in the morning- 5am or 6am to take him out for a walk before he got too hot and he would just slob out for the rest of the day.'
'They are the most fantastic and wonderful dogs and I wouldn't hesitate in getting another one except for the fact I would be worried the same thing might happen. To lose another one very young would be even more devastating.'
I hung on to Jasmine's comment about Shadow comforting her when she was sad and asked her on her opinion of whether dogs have awareness of their owner's moods. 'Definitely. They are such great communicators and they are such great observers. They notice everything- they are so smart. If I was going out- Shadow knew whether he was coming or not just by looking at what shoes I put on. If I put on a pair of high heels because I was going off to work- he knew that he wasn't coming. If I put on my boots, he knew that we were going for a walk. He'd get all excited, wagging his whole body, grabbing his lead and just generally going crazy for his walk. They are really great observers- they notice everything. If I was feeling down Shadow used to come and put his head on my knee and just be there for me. They definitely know.'
'They are very good at communicating to you how they are feeling and what their needs are. You have to watch and be observant too and understand what their signals are.'
'It's very important,' said Jasmine when I asked her about the importance of instilling a sense of confidence from a young age. 'I don't know where I read it but I read somewhere that up to about 16 weeks a puppy is not afraid of anything. They don't have built in fears so if you can get them used to going on the train or on the bus, going in the car or meeting other dogs- all the things that they are likely to encounter in life and they have all good experiences- they will be confident about it. Whereas if they have never been out on the street before and they have never seen a lorry or a motorbike go past, when they exceed that stage of their learning and development and they will be terrified of it. That will probably be a very difficult reaction to break them out of. If you do it all when they are very young- it's fine.'
'I took Shadow to as many places as I could when he was little, to experience many different situations and to see as many different people. I introduced him to buggies, motorbikes, trains and buses as soon as I could, as early as I could. By the time I took him away with me when I was working on A Place in the Sun, he was very adaptable. He just went everywhere. He didn't mind where he was as long as his people were there he knew that he was safe and happy. We travelled all over the place, Spain, France, Portugal- lots of different places. He had a nanny- my friend Louise. She looked after him all day while I was at work and took him out for his walks and things. When I came home in the evening, I always got a big, giant doggy hug from him. He was great, he adapted very well and I think that was largely because when he was younger we did many different socialisation situations with him.'
Before we parted ways, Jasmine told me what she had coming up next; 'I am off the Barbados next week for A Place in the Sun, it's a tough job but someone's got to do it! I am doing more A Place in the Sun and A Place in the Sun Home or Away next year. I am also working on a vegan brand so hopefully I will have more to say about that next year and of course the book.'
'I have my two children as well so they keep me busy; between A Place in the Sun, a massive house renovation, children and my other vegan project- I am quite busy. That's the reason why I am talking to you while I'm in a cab on my way to work!'
Dogs and Their Faithful Celebrities by Dogs Trust Trustee Limited is out now.