Move over Art Green, our new most eligible singles are a bunch of scrappy, funny, loveable rescue dogs.
Karen is hopeful that today she will find The One. “Ideally at the end of the day I would have fallen in love,” she sighs. “And hopefully someone with three or four legs would have fallen in love with us too.” As she enters The Dog House NZ experiment – basically First Dates but with dogs – the stakes could not seem higher. She lost her beloved dog Basil last year, and ever since then has been walking around with a dog-shaped hole in her heart.
Matching kind-hearted humans with abandoned pooches, The Dog House borrows all the dramatic parts of shows like Married at First Sight and The Bachelor without any of the toxic aftertaste. We still get to meet people tearing down their walls in the search for love, we still get that high stakes first impression moment and we still get the all-important “decision” (just swap the roses for dog treats). All of this, without any gaslighting, breadcrumbing or wine-throwing.
Set within the blissful Country Retreat dog sanctuary, where everyone is always smiling and the sun is always shining, we meet our first batch of candidates looking for their canine crush. Where regular human dating shows recruit armies of beauty influencers and personal trainers in their 20s, here we see a broad range of people looking to find The One. There’s a South African family, platonic pals in their 40s, and a proudly eccentric grey-haired couple who met on Tinder.
Under the expertise of Gavin and Helen, the founders of the sanctuary, the friendly local staff interview each party about what they are looking for. Here comes another opportunity to get the tissues out if you haven’t already, as you’ll hear moving stories of bullied kids who’ve struggled to make friends, people with health issues looking to get exercising after surgery and those who’ve lost their pooches and are ready to love again.
Of course, the bombshells in this dating show are not your Art Green types, but scruffy, fluffy, yappy, waggly rescue dogs. In episode one we meet a smiley staffy named Fred, a bolshy baby named Sue, and a nice nervous lady named Skye. The show delves into their backstories too – some were found abandoned, others rescued from violent situations – emphasising the important work that rescue shelters do in giving these dogs a second chance at life.
It gets exhausting trying to argue the useful function and ongoing relevance of reality television sometimes (Married at First Sight Australia’s Harrison is testing us all right now), but The Dog House NZ is an exceptionally cut and dry case. Hundreds of dogs come into shelters across the country every year needing loving homes, while designer dogs and oodles of oodles are pumped out of backdoor breeders simply because they are on trend.
As dog training expert Mark Vette reflected 10 years after teaching rescue dogs how to drive, rescue dogs can enrich people’s lives just as much as buying a breed. “I always encourage people to take on rescue dogs, you get that beautiful bond with them, plus you’ve saved a dog from a life of great difficulty,” he says. In Auckland, shelter numbers are rising, a combination of the lack of desexing available during lockdowns and the cost of living crisis.
Sure, the occasional candidate might do a poo in the middle of a date, but you aren’t going to find a more compelling case for adopting a dog, even for young families and even (gasp) for cat owners who might have hesitancies. And even if dogs aren’t for you, I challenge anyone to watch this show without welling up at least once. Arriving at the perfect time to soothe our bruised hearts and anxious minds, do yourself a favour and take a visit to The Dog House NZ.
The Dog House NZ airs at 7.30pm Thursdays on TVNZ2 and is available to stream on TVNZ+.