Animal People: Andrew Cotter
Scottish Sports Broadcaster, Author and “Dog Assistant”
When sporting events came to a pause at the beginning of the pandemic, famed Scottish sportscaster Andrew Cotter found himself with a wealth of time and nothing to commentate on. He never expected to reach millions of people when he tweeted a video narrating his dogs' breakfast, but quickly realized it was the type of simple joy people needed. Andrew has since chronicled his adventures with his dogs, Olive and Mabel, through social media and in books for millions to enjoy, and discovered some truths about himself in the process. Andrew joined us for an Animal People interview (closely supervised by Mabel and interrupted when Olive tried to eat her human's pastry) to share what he's learned about our relationships with dogs — in good times and in bad.
How have dogs played a role throughout your life?
I always wanted a dog when I was younger. I suppose, like a lot of children, I wanted a dog without thinking about the work that goes into them. I got a big Yorkshire terrier called Humphrey on my 8th birthday, and realized there was actually a lot of work that goes into managing the life of Humphrey. As children, let’s be honest, our parents look after the dogs more than us.
Olive and Mabel are really the first dogs that are just ours. We care for them and have the responsibility of running a dog. Olive batters her head into mine at six o'clock in the morning to wake me up. Never mind all of the things on social media, YouTube, our books, etc. That's what the reality of owning a dog is — it’s not having a nice photo or video on Instagram, but getting battered awake in the morning by a big Labrador head. Dogs do what they want, and what mine want is to get up and get going.
Beyond all that, they’re very special dogs to us, because we have had them from a very young age. Olive is 9-and-three quarters now, and Mable is four years younger. We got Olive about 9-and-a-half years ago, which saddens me a little bit, but we've packed a lot into those years. She’s not a senior citizen yet, because as a Labrador she’ll hopefully go a good while longer, and she was sprinting on the on the beach just earlier today. Dogs aren’t with us quite as long as we'd like them to be, so you've got to pack in as much as you can while they're here.
When did you start chronicling your life with Olive and Mabel on social media?
My job as a sports broadcaster, like so many jobs at the start of the pandemic, disappeared. I’m self-employed, so when sporting events weren’t happening, I was suddenly left with nothing. In one day, I found out that a big Six Nations Rugby match, the London marathon, U.S. Masters golf and the university boat race had all suddenly fell by the wayside. As a bit of fun, I thought, “What's a sports broadcaster to do when there's no work at all? Well, here I am commentating on my dogs having breakfast.” That was the first video — me just commentating on my dogs having their breakfast. I send out a tweet and didn’t expect it to have quite the reaction that it did, but it very quickly had many millions of views. There was never any intention to do more than that, but at that time we were really crowded around social media, like you used to crowd around one big TV program in the 1950s. Everyone was looking to social media for a bit of entertainment, so anything reasonably funny at that time was going to just explode. So I did a second video where they were fighting over an orange rubber bone. That one got over 20 million views, and it just kind of kept going from there.
How have you shared about life with Olive and Mabel since then?
There was no plan and it was never meant to be a thing. When it just kept snowballing, I decided I didn't want to do commentary on them forever. At this time I was getting asked to commentate on everything — rental cars getting cleaned, pizzas being cooked or kittens having a fight. I didn't want to be that kind of joke commentator forever, so I moved into doing little sketches with them. The first sketch was a Zoom meeting, because I was thinking, “Well, this is what we’re all doing just now. Our lives are mad and strange, so let’s make them a bit madder and stranger by putting dogs into that situation.” It was kind of chronicling our strange times through, not the eyes of dogs, but through putting dogs into these situations to show how ridiculous our lives were, and continue to be, really.
I wrote "Olive, Mabel & Me," and now have a second book called "Dog Days: A Year with Olive & Mabel" which is a chronicle of pandemic times as much as anything else. It's got plenty about Olive and Mabel in there, but it's really about life and life with dogs. A life without dogs really isn't a life worth contemplating to me.
Why do you think Olive and Mabel's videos are so universally loved and relatable?
Dogs deliver joy, and they are a little escape into a normal world, because they just carry on being dogs. While our lives are being turned upside down, you can just look at dogs and see that they have no idea what's going on in our human world, and they’re all the better for that. The videos were hopefully funny and provided a bit of entertainment and escape. They also featured dogs, which creates such a strong connection. They’re why I connected to your organization in San Diego. Olive and Mabel took off in all parts of the U.S., and we were on Good Morning America, shows in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There’s a common connection and love of dogs, and an escape into their world.
Was it hard for Olive and Mabel to adapt to life in the spotlight?
They know the interview routine now, because there were a lot of interviews over 18 months. So as soon as I would get the laptop set up they would realize that it was going to happen, and that they probably had to be on parade. In particular, if I was doing something on the sofa, Mabel would just hop up alongside me because she knew she had to be on breakfast TV somewhere. So yes, they are experienced.
I never like seeing dogs on social media who are being dressed up or made to feel uncomfortable for entertainment. If you can show them in a funny way without abusing them for entertainment, that’s fine. In everything I’ve ever done with them, I’ve always made sure they are happy and relaxed.
How do Olive and Mabel enrich your life?
Sports have come back now, so I’ve just been away for 8 weeks over the summer and hardly got to see the dogs. I really, really miss them, in contrast to being with them every single day during the pandemic. I don't think we realize all that dogs are doing for us when we’re with them. They can seem like bits of the furniture, like they’re part of the household, but it's when you're away from them that you understand what you miss. It’s just those moments when you’re scratching their ears or talking to them, saying any old nonsense. They can be a sounding board and a stress relief. Even when they’re just looking for food, they're a little bit of happiness, light and love wandering around your house. The way the world is at the moment, I think that we need them more than ever. But it is a sort of symbiotic relationship — they need us as well to deliver food and a little scratch around the ear. We all get a lot out of that connection.
Why are these symbiotic relationships so important?
I’m an animal lover and I just can’t abide cruelty to animals. I think we have such a responsibility as human beings to take care of animals. Often, people see us as the superior species, but I've never seen it that way. (Superior, perhaps only in terms of brain power, and not all of us, either.) That just gives us, not the right to do what we want, but the duty to take care of animals. I see them as accomplices to us, because we’re just animals as well. We’re all animals trying to get through life, so I think we should take care of everybody. Dogs are the ones we sort of take care of most of all.
Order the book chronicles of Olive and Mabel at oliveandmabelbook.com and follow Andrew on his Instagram.
Published: September 19, 2022