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Pastimes: Man's Best Friend with Lord Palumbo

Pastimes: Man's Best Friend with Lord Palumbo

Lord Palumbo with his dogs Buffy, Buttercup and Mr Bounce

4 min read

In her occasional series, Rosamund Urwin meets up with parliamentarians to discuss how they unwind away from Westminster. Here, Lord Palumbo goes to the dogs.

Lord Palumbo of Southwark laughs when I suggest that he prefers dogs to people. “I like my best friend most of all,” he corrects me. “But there is that English idea that people who are obsessed with dogs can’t have normal relationships. And I probably can’t.” 

The entrepreneur, 58, who was made a Liberal Democrat life peer in 2013, currently has two four-legged companions: Buttercup, a Dachshund-Jack Russell cross, and a West Highland terrier called Buffy. He prefers long-nosed hounds, “so you can kiss them on their snouts” and has a particular voice – nasal and high-pitched – that he employs only for dogs. 

Before Buttercup and Buffy there was his beloved Bonnie, another Westie, and Mr Bounce, an elegant whippet; Palumbo’s eyes water when I mention them. “When Bonnie died, the pain was unbearable,” he says. “But what can you do? It’s a disaster but you can’t protect yourself from it... You can only find another dog to love.” 

Palumbo, 58, who is best known for founding the Ministry of Sound nightclub in South London in 1991, has turned his devotion to dogs into a canine charity; Jai Dog Rescue, which is based in Thailand, launched in 2017. 

When I see a dog in pain, it just horrifies me. I can’t bear to see them suffering

His links to the country come through his best friend, Rawipim Paijit, known as Pim, who was born there but has lived with Palumbo in London for 30 years. The pair return to Thailand every year and own a farm a couple of hours north of Bangkok. They found that stray dogs flocked to the land, attracted by the availability of food, and the charity flowed from that.

“There are [stray] dogs everywhere in Thailand – millions of them,” Palumbo says. “Dogs exist by the side of the road, by monasteries, farms and restaurants. The issues are breeding, dog fights, injuries.” Abuse and neglect is widespread: “I’m such a coward; when I see a dog in pain, it just horrifies me. I can’t bear to see them suffering.”

The charity spays and neuters dogs, treats those that are sick, and then releases them, although those with severe disabilities, such as the five that have needed wheelchairs, become residents for life: “Anywhere else they’d be put down, but if you put them in a wheelchair, they can go for walks and play again,” he explains.

In five years, the charity has grown from “just a few dogs running around,” to having kennel blocks, playgrounds, and a mini veterinary surgery on site. Palumbo believes it is working: “There are fewer dogs on the streets now, fewer being knocked over by cars. The ones there look happier and healthier.” 

Although still a small charity, Jai has just won the backing of the sector behemoth, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which has given £1.8m in a partnership, aiming to neuter and vaccinate more than 70,000 stray dogs in central Thailand in the next five years. 

While Palumbo is happy with the way his charity is progressing, he seems less sure of his role in the House of Lords. Having taken a leave of absence, last year he apologised for failing to register an offshore businesses, and was reprimanded by the Standards Commissioner.   “I believe in the Lords,” he says. “I think they really improve legislation, tweaking in a very thoughtful way, and there’s such expertise with lawyers and ex-military [people]. I’m not sure that being an entrepreneur helps much in a place like the Lords, though.” 

Given his mixed feelings about Parliament, he prefers to prioritise creatures with fur over those in ermine gowns. “People say ‘focus on the things you can affect,’ and I have actually done something and it’s growing and helping,” he says. “I think that will last long after I am gone now too.”

 

Rosamund Urwin is a journalist with The Sunday Times

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