by Lee Harrington
Note: This interview is from Bark magazine’s Dogs of Rock series and was published in January 2009. I’m re-posting it now, in October 2012)
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a certain dog-loving member of the Who getting a lot of media attention this month. That would be Mr. Pete Townshend–the multi-talented composer, guitarist, songwriter, and composer for one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Pete is also the author of the much-anticipated memoir “Who I Am” which was just released by Harper Collins (October 2012) and is currently power-chording its way up the bestsellers lists. (You should read this book: Pete’s prose is quite lovely, and his story is insightful and honest. We think it’s one of the rock-oirs ever written. And he mentions his beloved dogs. In fact, one reviewer noted that Pete devoted more word count to his dogs than he does to his fellow band-mates.)
Anyway, as much as we love Pete, we think it’s important to bring attention to his partner, the lovely, talented and dog-loving Rachel Fuller. Ms. Fuller–a British musician–is an exceptional songwriter, famous for her impeccable vocals, her witty lyrics and her ambitious musical projects. She has a rich biography–too colorful, varied and kooky to describe here–but in brief: Fuller has released quite a few albums, including the critically-acclaimed Cigarettes and Housework (2004), Week in Kew (2008), Shine, and a compilation of songs based on the films of Pedro Amaldovar (2010). Her song ‘Wonderland’ appeared on the soundtrack of the American movie “Shall We Dance?” in 2004, and this song broadened her audience significantly here in the US. Fuller also writes musicals: her show “Ash” debuted in the UK in 2008). She was the host of the popular online musical series “In the Attic,” and has collaborated on several projects with that rock-star partner of hers. Currently Rachel is working on an orchestration of the Who’s masterpiece Quadrophenia.
And if that weren’t enough to keep a woman busy, Rachel Fuller is also the headmistress of seven dogs, ranging in weight from twelve to one-hundred and twenty pounds. That’s a lot of dog. Most of these happy canines reside at Rachel and Pete’s main residence in Richmond, while others are lucky enough to get to travel with Rachel to her house in Southern France.
I spoke with Rachel back in 2009 when she had “only” six dogs. We had a lovely chat about life with dogs.
LH: How did you come to have so many dogs?
RF: When I was twenty-six, I lost my mother very suddenly, and decided it was time for me to care for and have the love of a dog! I was in a relationship with my beloved (Pete) but I was living alone (in London), and I guess I was grieving, and although I had never owned a dog, I understood from friends that they were great companions! So maybe I just wanted some company? Along came Spud, my first golden retriever. Spud helped me through my grief, he is a very kind dog, gentle and sweet. LH: Did Spud help you through your grief in a way that the humans in your life could not? RF: I think we grieve differently when we are alone, and the unconditional love and understanding of a dog is perfect I think.] Around the same time, Pete rescued a Border Collie—Flash—and he and Spud became great friends. Flash was rescued at about five months of age. He had been mistreated by a male, and is still very wary of strange men at first, but once he knows they are no threat, is fine. He was on “death row” at a dog rescue.
LH: Was Pete a Border Collie fanatic before getting Flash? Did Pete know what he was getting into, in other words, with such an active and intelligent breed?
RF: Ha-ha, no, Pete had always had dogs, even as a child, but they were all spaniels. He had no idea what he was getting into, but Flash fits in very well. We live near a park and he gets lots of exercise. Flash has always been a typical Border Collie – ready to herd sheep twenty-four hours a day. He is indefatigable. As I said, Flash and Spud became great friends. Pete and I were still not living together at that point, so two years later I decided Spud should have a canine buddy. Plus I have a bottomless ocean of love to give. Thus, I got Harry–a terrier. Harry is a scream. Very feisty and fun. He has always smiled for a camera (I kid you not, see photos). Two years later, along came Barney the Bichon. He came with a circus trick, standing on his back legs and waving his front paws in the air in a rhythmic circular motion. He seems to do this whenever he feels any kind of powerful emotion. Joy, hunger, love, need. We adore him. Barney is absolutely devoted to Harry. We call him Harry’s Lieutenant – Barns Minor. So when Pete and I finally moved in together, I had my three dogs—Spud, Harry and Barney—and he had Flash.
LH: So that’s four. Never too much of a good thing.
RF: Right. Then, two years later, for Pete’s Birthday, along came Wistle, the miniature Yorkshire Terrier. Pete had always spoken about his love for Yorkies. John Entwistle’s mother had a Yorkshire Terrier called Scruffy and as a teenager Pete spent a lot of time at John’s house. Wistle got her name in remembrance of John. (Editor’s note: John Entwistle was Pete’s close friend and legendary bass player for The Who)
LH: And number six?
RF: We were complete and happy with our five dogs. But I started to worry that Wistle needed a “little” buddy. (We had divided our dogs into teams of the Big Guys and the Littles). So, on to the naughtiest of our bunch, Cracker – the miniature poodle. (Who, as I type this, is chewing the leg on my chair.) Cracker is without question the smartest of the bunch, but with his intellect comes an inordinate amount of mischief. He is into everything. But he and Wistle are inseparable. That’s it! Six! We must be crazy! If I had to sum them up in one word I would say: Flash – speed freak
Spud – kind
Harry – fun
Barney – eccentric
Wistle – princess
Cracker – naughty.
LH: I understand that Pete has an at-home recording studio, and that you like to compose at home as well. How does that work—two musicians and six exuberant barking dogs?
RF: When it was just Spud and I, he was always happiest asleep under my grand piano, whether I was playing or composing. Now, I either write alone, or Spud and Wistle sleep whilst I write at my piano. I’m happy to have all of them around me when I am working on lyrics. When I compose at my studio in Kew village, I often take Wistle.
LH: In fact, legend has it that when you were writing and recording your record “Week in Kew,” you sequestered yourself in your studio for a full week and wrote one song per day, writing song lyrics on the walls. You limited all human contact, but you brought Wistle. He must be very quiet?
RF: When Pete and I record at home we have to put [the dogs] in their room as any noise they make ends up on the track. I have a few masters with a faint bark on them though.
LH: As a classically-trained pianist, you have a good ear. Are there certain sounds your dogs respond to?
RF: The sound they respond most to is the garden gate when it opens. They generally go psycho as they think they’re going down the garden. Pete and I don’t help matters by shouting: “Release the hounds!”
LH: As a musician, and as a part-time resident of France, you must travel a lot. You have also toured with The Who and hosted a popular and innovative webcast series called “In The Attic” which also involved lots of travel. Do any of the dogs travel with you?
RF: The three littles all have dog passports. I think it would be too hot in the South of France for the big guys. We have a fabulous guy called Perry who works for us as a dog walker and caretaker. We live by the river and practically adjacent to Richmond Park, so twice a day, they go for a good 90 minute walk. If we go on tour, Perry moves into our house and lives with the dogs – so their routine and environment stays the same. Pete walks the pack often on a Sunday – which he absolutely loves to do. I often will pick one or two, and Wistle comes everywhere.
Editor’s note: Rachel now has a seventh dog, another Yorkie named Skrapovsky. Skrappy has been residing in splendor in Southern France since 2011.
LH: You are a famous for being a great beauty and a very sharp and stylish dresser. How do you manage this amongst the drool and dog-hair?
RF: I’m pretty much always covered in dog hair. The littles don’t shed, but Flash, Spud and Harry are terrible! I don’t even notice it anymore. If I’m going somewhere special, I put my outfit on at the last minute before we leave and check for hair. Someone should invent a dog Hoover. Hoover the dogs every morning instead of the house?
My friend Lucie and I like to work out what kind of outfits the dogs would wear. We think this.
Flash – black polo neck sweater with black drainpipe trousers
Spud – beige corduroy trousers with a crimson sweater
Harry – a tweed hunting jacket with a red velvet waistcoat
Barney – very short cut off denim daisy dukes, cowboy boots (tan, square toed, which he would wear without needing a reason),and big 70’ earphones with an aerial, he also would like to roller skate
Wistle – just a pink tutu
Cracker – like a teen skateboarder with low rise baggy jeans.
LH: Do you have a particularly dog-friendly decor in your houses?
RF: The dogs have their very own room. It has beds, heating and air-conditioning. The room we spend most time in together has a stone slab floor and leather sofas, which is about as dog friendly as you can get. Sometimes we think we should just put straw on the floor. It gets dirty, especially in the winter. You can’t be precious about décor with so many dogs. There are some rooms in the house that the dogs don’t go into, but the room we all share is super dog friendly.
LH: You are also famous for being a committed supporter for animal charities.
RF: Our main support is for a small independent Border Collie rescue centre here in the UK called Wiccaweys. The couple who run it, Sarah and Paul, are utterly dedicated to rescuing the worst cases and work very hard at re-homing them. They are amazing – and the volunteers are also inspiring. I fund-raise as much as I can [including a well-publicized auction of an impressive collection of Pete’s guitars and personal items] and have had the pleasure of judging collie shows. I want to help the dogs. I’m so appalled by animal cruelty. I didn’t want to bury my head in the sand and just throw some money at a big charity. I want to be involved in the reality. Sarah and Paul really keep me up to date with all the new arrivals, and re-homings. They also have an amazing web-site www.wiccaweys.com.
LH: I checked out their website after you recommended them. Wiccawey’s adoption guidelines are superb—those guidelines could serve as a model guideline for any rescue group specializing in Border Collies and working sheepdogs.
RF: They deserve all the praise they can get.
Click here to read the Wiccawey's blog about Pete and Rachel
Rachel can be found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rachel-M-Fuller/184298128278175