There’s something about walking into a cinema with a dog that makes you feel like a movie star. Everyone smiles in your direction, people ask to take photos and rush over to offer water. But it’s not me that adoring onlookers are cooing over, it’s Paul Simon, my old English sheepdog puppy who, at ten weeks old, has already had more attention than I got in my entire twenties.
We’re at Picturehouse Central for the first in its new series of dog-friendly screenings. The cinema, just off Piccadilly Circus, trialled the concept last year with Laurie Anderson’s documentary ‘Heart of a Dog’. That was such a success, says events manager Cat Courtney, that it is now inviting cinema-going canines and their human chums to a Sunday matinee every six weeks. ‘It sucks to have a dog and to have to leave them at home because you want to watch a movie,’ Courtney tells me. However, you don’t need a woofer in tow to attend. She adds: ‘I was talking to one girl who can’t have a dog because she lives in a flat, so she came just to hang out with a load of dogs.’ And there are all kinds here. One dog – a rescue called Gus – even has a tie on for the occasion.
As we all gather to go in, the mutts sniff each other’s behinds and play-fight. I fully expected a cacophony of barking, but they are surprisingly quiet. Paul Simon is just a pup, so I’ve been a little concerned about how he will react to the other dogs. But everyone is so well behaved I needn’t have worried. In fact, they all settle into the roomy red chairs without complaint. The staff lay out blankets before bums (animal bums) hit seats and provide beef sticks for the dogs to chew on. But as the lights dim Paul Simon scrunches up his blanket and seems keener on a nap than a movie.
The film showing today is the animated drama ‘My Life as a Courgette’, picked for its 66-minute running time – perfect for pooches’ attention spans – and its gentle soundtrack. One moment involving a bursting balloon shocks a lhasa apso called Toby, his owner Henri tells me afterwards, but otherwise the hounds are happy. ‘It’s a brilliant idea,’ says Carol-Mei, owner of Dotty the cavalier cross. Her partner, Patrick, agrees: ‘We’d go to the cinema a lot more if we didn’t have to leave Dotty at home.’
Cat Courtney hopes that the Picturehouse Central’s series will inspire other cinemas to host dog-friendly screenings. ‘It’s very straightforward to do,’ she tells me. ‘Obviously some accidents are inevitable, but so far the owners have been very respectful and the post-screening clean-up has been absolutely fine.’
As the credits roll, the dogs trot out, refreshed after their snooze, beelining for the bowls of water. Paul Simon greedily receives all the head pats and tummy rubs bestowed upon him by staff and customers, reminding everyone that when it comes to doggy cinema, our four-legged friends are the true stars of the show.
The next dog-friendly screening at Picturehouse Central is ‘The Big Sick’ on Aug 20. Tickets are available now.
And in other four-legged news: