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Meet the big hairy fella who can pull Sharron Davies!

WITH its real-life stories of people's pets, Rolf Harris's Animal Hospital has won an army of fans. Now the BBC is repeating the formula - but with a difference.

Starting tonight Rolf's Amazing World of Animals spotlights all kinds of creatures with fascinating tales to tell. "We've concentrated on stories that are really uplifting," says Rolf. He also reveals the important part animals have played in the private lives of celebrities.

And here we bring you a sneak preview of those stories - as the stars talk of the animals which hold a very special place in their hearts...

FANS of champion swimmer Sharron Davies agree she looks stunning both in and out of the water.

But Sharron has special friends with even greater pulling power!

They are Newfoundland dogs, the world's finest four-legged life-savers.

Sharron is patron of the Newfoundland Friends Society and regularly visits the Cotswold Water Park to see these magnificent dogs in action.

Over the centuries they have rescued thousands of people from the sea and nowadays they work with junior lifeguards to help make life-saving fun.

It's no wonder they have become dear to Sharron's heart. "Like me, they just love the water," she says.

Newfoundlands might not have Sharron's champion style but they have webbed paws and a unique action which allows them to glide effortlessly through the water.

And weighing in at around 14 stones, pound for pound they have the greatest pulling power of any dog in the world.

The dogs will be put to the test on the show next month when Rolf and Sharron join Harry the Newfoundland for trial of strength in the water.

And Harry easily hauls ten junior lifeguards plus Rolf through the waves - a total weight of about 500 kilograms!

Rolf says: "They are more than a match for David Hasselhoff and his Baywatch Babes. They are just as cuddly - but a bit smarter!"

AS Dot Cotton, she's the chain-smoking gossip of EastEnders who can talk the hind leg off a donkey.

In real life, actress June Brown is dotty about donkeys. It's a far cry from Albert Square but the Freshfields Donkey Sanctuary in the beautiful Derbyshire Dales is a haven of peace and love.

There are 70 donkeys there but June has a favourite - called Dot.

"She was found in a field in the winter, huddled up against a wall and covered in snow with just her ears sticking up," says June.

"She had been there for several days and was very thin. I was so moved by that story so thought I'd sponsor her. She's 57 now and the oldest donkey at Freshfields and I love her."

NOT many people - or animals - tower over comedy actor John Cleese. But when it comes to giraffes, he says they really see eye to eye!

He's even become "dad" to one - a six-month-old beauty called Stephanie, at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire.

John has become a firm supporter of the zoo's conservation projects since making his last movie Fierce Creatures - which was all about life at a zoo.

He monitors the progress of Marwell's captive breeding programmes and is deadly serious when he talks about his passion.

He tells Rolf: "It wasn't that long ago when zoos kept animals in concrete cells just for public amusement. Now they want to help endangered species and reintroduce them to the wild.

"But conservation requires money so zoos also have to keep animals that aren't necessarily endangered." That's where John's mates the giraffes come in. But why giraffes?

John says: "The last time I was at Marwell, Harry - a big old male - came up and started looking at me with a huge eye.

"I felt a kind of contact with him - I don't know what it was but a moment like that is very deep and very special. It reminds you of where we all came from."

THIRTY years after starring in Born Free, actress Virginia McKenna is still busy with her Born Free Foundation, rescuing wild animals from captivity and giving them new homes.

Rolf follows the story of her latest rescue - two lions, Anthea and Raffi, who were found living in appalling conditions in a small rooftop cage on the holiday isle of Tenerife.

After two years of fighting red tape, the foundation set the lions free in a huge natural enclosure on South Africa's Shamwari game reserve.
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Author:Blackhall, Sue
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 24, 1998
Words:728
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