Eamonn and Ruth interview: ‘If my wife loved me the way my dog loves me I'd be a very happy man'

Eamonn and Ruth interview: ‘If my wife loved me the way my dog loves me I’d be a very happy man’
© Provided by The Telegraph ‘The dog unlocks all of us. She’s the common bond’

It’s been a challenging year in the Holmes-Langsford household. Last December, Britain’s most-loved broadcasting couple reported “a changing of the guard”. Their regular Friday presenting slot on Good Morning was being taken over by Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary – and now, after 15 years of sterling service, Eamonn is reported to be leaving the programme for a position at GB News. If that isn’t drama enough, he’s suffered months of ill health. And Ruth’s mother broke her hip. But there’s been one happy constant: Maggie, the dog they rescued 10 years ago from the charity Dogs Trust.

“She’s just adorable,” says Ruth warmly. “We love her so much.” And that love is returned. “You come home and you’ve had a tough day, a long day, whatever, and I see her and she sees me, or Eamonn, and you see her tail going, and then she runs off, and I know it’s because she’s getting a toy from her basket to bring you. It’s just the loveliest thing. And you forget everything you were worried about, annoyed about, cross about.”

We’re speaking via conference call. Ruth turns up first and Eamonn, delayed by work calls, joins 10 minutes in. “That’s so us – I’m early, he’s always late,” says Ruth. He apologises profusely and is teased by his wife (“What time do you call this?”).

They both appreciate the mental health benefits of dog ownership, even if “it’s quite subtle”, says Eamonn. “I’ve had a lot of illness in the past year. Dislocated two discs, my right leg was very badly damaged, my sciatic nerve – it’s been tough. And then I got Covid.” Maggie has been their consolation. If you feel hard done by, he says, a dog can really help. “I like the peace that Maggie brings me.”

That she’s a rescue dog makes that bond even more special, they feel. “You cannot but look at an animal you have rescued and think, ‘That was the better thing; to adopt, rather than shop,’” says Eamonn. “It gives you a moral contentment. To see it living out in front of you – this good deed you have done.” In her first year, Maggie had been abandoned, rehomed and returned – and when they finally drove her home, Ruth remembers her wide anxious eyes, as if she were thinking, “Where now?”

You sense that she is the family lynchpin – and not just because of her omnipresence on Ruth’s Instagram page, or the fact that directly after our chat Eamonn pings over a stream of photos to the Dogs Trust representative (theme, Adoration of the Maggie) threatening “hundreds more”.

Ruth says: “She just stole all our hearts. We all have a different relationship with her. Eamonn is definitely ‘man of the house’ – she can be really cosy with me watching TV on my lap, then he comes in and she’s straight off me and onto him, which is galling when I do all the walking, feeding and looking after.”

Eamonn and Ruth interview: ‘If my wife loved me the way my dog loves me I’d be a very happy man’
© Provided by The Telegraph ‘Maggie is a child to us’: Eammon and Ruth say the dog has changed their lives

That said, this afternoon, Ruth attempted to walk her and Maggie was reluctant. “I was powering up the road and she was having none of it. I brought her back and my stepson Niall was like, ‘I’ve just taken her on a long walk.’” (Eamonn has three adult children from his first marriage, Niall, Rebecca and Declan; he and Ruth are parents to Jack, 19.)

Maggie looks after them, too. Ruth adds: “I think dogs are aware if you’re unwell, or upset. When my mum broke her hip, she came to stay with us – she was here for a good couple of weeks, and Maggie went from Jack’s bed – “Sorry, Jack, but there’s something more important I have to do” – and slept on my mum’s bed every night.”

Though Eamonn says: “If my wife loved me the way my dog loves me I’d be a very happy man,” his theory is that Maggie’s devotion is part-inspired by his frequent fridge visits. There’s also talk of an incident involving the well-intentioned sharing of cheese Wotsits, canine diarrhoea, and a stain so persistent the carpet cleaner was baffled – but we move on, as it remains a source of light tension.

They excel at banter, but Eamonn is serious when he says this dog changed his life. “She’s made me a better person; a more compassionate person.” Indeed, in recent years, those enjoying Portugal’s nightlife over the Easter break may have witnessed a curious scene. A car, moving slowly along the kerbside, in search of something. It halts, the window is wound down. Out flies a volley of restaurant-quality chicken portions. The local pack of stray dogs devours them. Nothing to see here – just Ruth and Eamonn on their holidays.

“I’m now almost obsessed with animals, being kind to animals, thinking more about why I eat meat,” says Eamonn. “I worry about how we treat animals – it’s awful how we’ve used and abused them over the years.”

It also transpires that he ordered a canine DNA test in New York, to reveal Maggie’s heritage. “It came back three quarters border collie, one per cent this, and that, and – 22 per cent sausage dog.”

Ruth adds: “Very interesting union, isn’t it?” Eamonn says proudly: “She looks like a black fox. Her face is like Basil Brush. She’s the most divine little thing.”

Truly, they weren’t always like this. Their metamorphosis began, as it often does, with pester-power. Ruth says: “Jack, who was six or seven at the time, was begging us for a dog. I put it off, because I’ve never had dogs. I’m from an army family, so we travelled. We didn’t have pets until my parents retired – and they had cats.” Plus, she worked. (“Now I wish we’d done it when Jack was even younger,” she says. “Because to watch him love that dog so much – I think it’s a very special relationship.”)

Then, Eamonn’s Sky colleagues, Jacquie Beltrao and Charlotte Hawkins – who both have rescue dogs and were attending a Dogs Trust event – persuaded Eamonn to attend to boost publicity. He remembers telling them: “‘What do I know about dogs? What do I care?’ I went in totally ignorant and unempathetic about dogs, and I came out a complete convert. My life changed from that day.”

But Ruth had warned against “any nasty surprises”. She adds that, ingeniously, “he returned with footage of little Maggie here – 10 or 15 seconds – where she’s just looking up at him with her big lovely, black, soulful eyes, and her tail wagging. Jack was immediately like, ‘Oh, can we have her?’”

After a discussion with Dogs Trust and weeks of deliberating – Ruth “wasn’t keen” – they returned to the charity centre. “We said, ‘Where’s that little dog?’” recalls Eamonn. She’d been adopted. “I was crushed,” he says. They walked around, then said goodbye – Ruth secretly thinking, “We’ve got away with it.”

Then, a staff member piped up, “Oh Eamonn, you know little Magdalene –unfortunately she was brought back. She’s just out on a walk. Do you want to wait for her?” Five minutes later, in came Maggie. “I remember Jack kneeling down. He had denim shorts on. She rushed up to him, and he said, ‘Hello Maggie’ and she licked his knees. And it was like watching them fall in love.”

Eamonn and Ruth interview: ‘If my wife loved me the way my dog loves me I’d be a very happy man’
© Provided by The Telegraph Puppy love: the pair rescued Maggie 10 years ago from Dogs Trust

But they still had to be approved. Meanwhile, “the next morning, at 6 o’clock, Jack was in our room by the bed, saying ‘Please, Mummy’, and Eamonn was looking at me, like, ‘Are you going to deny your son this?’ Fine! We were the first car at the gates, before they opened.”

Ruth says now, “I believe she was meant for us.” She remains grateful to the adopters who realised that they couldn’t care for Maggie, and responsibly returned her to the Dogs Trust – “I just thank those people. Because we got her.”

Initially, Ruth was strict: Maggie was to be a “downstairs dog”. Soon after that, Jack was off school unwell and rules were abandoned “just this once”, after which “she slept on his bed. Sometimes she’d be in the bed, under the duvet with him, her head on the pillow.”

Marvellous though it is for small children to care for a dog, I wonder if canine loyalty and love is even more invaluable in the teenage years (and decades beyond) when we might struggle to articulate complex emotions. “I’d totally agree,” says Eamonn. “A dog is like a codebreaker almost – so suddenly Jack speaks in a different language, is a different person. He can hardly utter a sentence to his mother or father” – Ruth laughs – “but with the dog it’s different.” He says: “The dog unlocks all of us. She’s the common bond.”

That said, now that Jack is at university, Maggie may have reassigned his status in the pack. Eamonn notes that Jack “has shared a bit of disappointment that the dog didn’t show him as much attention now that he’s gone to uni and come back”.

Is Maggie benefiting from empty-nest syndrome? “I had empty nest,” says Ruth. “I was bereft for a few days when Jack went, but I have a busy working life and a lot going on, so I don’t feel that Maggie’s a child substitute because I’ve got nothing in my life now Jack’s gone. I’ve got a little bit more time possibly – but I walk her all the time anyway.” Eamonn exclaims: “I think she gets a bit more of your attention. Whether you’re aware of an emotional void or not, I do think you’re glad she’s there – more so than ever before.”

He says: “Maggie is a child to us,” adding, “I’ve found this whole reservoir of love I didn’t know existed.” How can you repay such a gift? No wonder they remain devoted supporters of Dogs Trust. Eamonn is in awe of what the organisation does for our four-legged fellow mortals. Despite the increase in people contacting Dogs Trust for help with their dogs post-pandemic, their rehoming process remains rigorous. “You’d think with the amount of animals that Dogs Trust have, they’d say, ‘I know you’ve never thought of an Alsatian, but this’ll be perfect for you,’” he jokes. In fact, “It’s almost like, hmm, you like this dog? We’ll have a think about whether you’re right for this dog.”

Dogs Trust is one of four charities supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal. The others are the Alzheimer’s Society, Maggie’s and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. To donate, visit telegraph.co.uk/2021appeal or call 0151 284 1927

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