The woman who has the most unusual job in local television.
Vet nurse Jo McGregor must have the most unique job on New Zealand television.
Sure, every show has someone who has to look after the stars and make sure they are fed and watered, but only McGregor has to also ensure they have been walked and toileted in an appropriate place.
However, it is simply all in a day’s work for the Fanimals animal carer. One of the TVNZ weekday afternoon show’s most-vital team members, the career vet nurse has been responsible for the welfare of golden retriever Molson, feline dynamic duo Micro and Chip, and the other non-human regulars from the show’s debut in March.
Although some of the tasks can be odorous, the job is far from onerous, McGregor says.
“It’s a fun place to be,” she says while taking a rare moment to get off her feet at the programme’s Christchurch-based Whitebait Media studios. “There’s a fun team of people and I think the animals are natural stress relievers, so when somebody needs a little time out they come on down and have a pat.”
Fanimals filming takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday each week. McGregor says a typical show day involves her getting up early to forage greens for the guinea pigs and rabbits and picking up Molson on the way (Chip and Micro live with McGregor, so they are always first onboard) for a 8am onset call time.
“He (Molson) gets pretty excited to see me,” she laughs. “He bounds into the car, which is quite neat.
“Before I’ve even arrived, he has had a walk and been shampooed and blow-dried.
“He’s a darling, just a cool dog to work with, and because he’s now three years old, he’s sensible.”
Once at the Addington studios, McGregor fills up water bowls and makes sure everyone is happy for
the busy day ahead. She sets up a timeout zone away from the studio lights for the kittens, while Molson goes looking for someone to carry out his first order of business – a game of catch with a tennis ball.
“Molson has pretty much free rein once he’s here,” says McGregor. “He just sort of hangs about on the ‘grass’ (actually astroturf) and wants to play tug of war.”
The only exception, she says, is when a guest animal might not be so keen on a canine companion.
“That’s when he goes upstairs to hang out, because we want to make sure that no one’s upset.”
McGregor admits Molson also gets asked to leave whenever host Jess Quilter is whipping something up in the onset kitchen.
“Being a retriever he’s keen as. You can almost see him planning, ‘How can I get a crumb?’.”
Fanimals producer Reuben Davidson describes McGregor, who is also a dog-watch volunteer, puppy pre-school teacher and aviation security puppy foster parent, as something of, “A bit of a dog whisperer. She seems to know what Molson is thinking even before Molson does.”
McGregor laughs at the suggestion, although she admits she likes to think she has, “A good connection with dogs. I’ve been reading a lot of books on dog behaviour and I enjoy observing them, watching them, trying to read their signs.” As with any role involving health and safety, McGregor has plenty of paperwork to fill out, although in her case it mainly involves a spreadsheet for every animal documenting when they’ve peed, poohed, snacked and slept. “Molson gets his own treats brought in with him – carrots and apples – because he’s on a diet and when everyone else is eating lunch, he gets time out in the sun – or the rain. He probably gets three or four walks a day.” As for the kittens, adopted by the show from the Christchurch SPCA this year, McGregor says they seem to love their life in the spotlight. “They are such adaptable cats. There’s no stress in the car. I put them in their carry case and they just go to sleep beside me.” She’s also noticed big changes since they began their lives onscreen. “They are getting a bit more individual as they get bigger. Chip is like he’s had a coffee or two when he’s on set – he likes to explore and he’ll do anything for wee bits of food, including quite happily sitting on my shoulder for ages. “Micro? She’s not so excited by treats. But at home, she’s become particularly interested in water. She’ll just sit in the bath hoping someone will turn the tap on.”