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Leon Towers and his canine care centre in Shoreham-by-Sea

PUBLISHED: 10:04 21 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:04 21 December 2016

Leon Towers © Julia Claxton

Leon Towers © Julia Claxton

©Julia Claxton

Leon Towers has enjoyed a variety of careers, including children’s TV presenter and foster carer. But his passion for care and rehabilitation led him to launch canine care centre House of Hugo in Shoreham-by-Sea, as he told Jenny Mark-Bell

Leon Towers is a man with many stories – in fact you could say he has lived several lifetimes.

The friendly, energetic former children’s entertainer now runs House of Hugo, a canine care, training and development centre in Shoreham-by-Sea. The business, which launched five years ago, caught the attention of television executives and was the focus of a 10-part reality series – quite a marketing boon for a young company.

When Leon was 18 he got a dog, Buster. “He was my first proper dog, just a complete companion. He was brought up with my daughter and my son.” Sadly Buster was run over at the age of four and Leon was too traumatised to get another dog until Scooby the Airedale came along seven years ago.

Now Scooby’s something of a figurehead for House of Hugo, which offers pretty much everything a dog could wish for, from hydrotherapy and training to day care and extreme pampering.

Leon was a foster carer for four years and when the last child left he decided to open a business catering to dogs and their owners. He was interested in rehabilitation and caring: “I love the day care, but it’s caring for them and making them better that I get the buzz from.”

Qualifications in hydrotherapy followed, training at The Whitehouse Canine Centre in Lincoln and Greyfriar’s Rehabilitation Centre in Guildford. Leon specialises in spinal conditions, hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, damage to cruciate ligaments. Interestingly, it seems that many injuries are preventable and to do with lifestyle: “I would say 70 per cent of the dogs I see have cruciate damage,” says Leon. “A lot of them get it from when the owners are chucking the balls with ball launchers and they jump up to get the ball. They crash down and twist their knee.” Leon sees dogs from a wide catchment area – as far as Guildford and all along the south coast. But it’s not all rehabilitation – he reckons around 40 per cent of his work is based around fun and fitness.

“I’ve been really lucky,” says Leon about the coverage he received through the 10-part series on the Watch Channel. In the marketing for the show House of Hugo was presented as a luxury hotel and spa for dogs with reality TV’s inevitable focus on the eccentric (dogs are assigned their own luxury bedrooms and pampering experiences include pedicures and facials). “They were there every day, whether things were going right or wrong,” says Leon of the filming process. Leon himself had some on-camera experience as he’d done some children’s television presenting in his native Cumbria. And the dogs were surprisingly amenable to being filmed too.

His interest in helping dogs lose weight through hydrotherapy led to an interest in nutrition and Leon is now a qualified canine nutritionist. It’s a hot topic at the moment, with many companies promoting ‘clean eating for dogs’, campaigns for more transparency about ethical production of dog foods, and growing interest in raw food diets. Leon is evangelical about the latter: “A lot of vets still get paid commission for selling [branded] dog food.” He also has concerns about TV-advertised chews which purport to help dog dentistry. “People believe that by giving their dogs that chew it cleans their teeth. They’re actually full of sugar and it rots their teeth.

“Even with top-end foods, if you look at the list of ingredients there’s about 20 things that don’t need to be there. Raw food is just raw meat and vegetables, which is what the dogs need. It makes their coats shinier, they don’t have that dog smell…”

Naturally, Scooby – “the founding father” of the business – is a fan. He is something of a local celebrity with a following on social media. Leon says “He’s affectionate but on his terms. I like that about him – he’s got a bit of attitude. When he sits next to me it means more.”

Just like his owner, he’s a character.

House of Hugo, Dolphin Road, Shoreham-by-Sea; 01273 463223; www.houseofhugo.com

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