It all began with no intention at all to get a dog! Suffice to say as soon as a couple of pictures of Reggie popped up in my Instagram feed early on in June 2015, the love affair began.
Once I'd read the plea to find forever homes for 6 month old Reggie and his sister Rae and noted the fact that they were continually being overlooked, my desire to get Reggie home went into overdrive. They were the last of a litter of seven who were found amongst rubbish with their Mum by wonderful Anca in Romania.
I still have his original description saved on my phone, here's a little snippet...Reggie is a very handsome boy, he is really gentle and is a sweet soul with a laid back calm nature. He loves to take long naps in the sun, in fact anything to do with lying down Reggie enjoys! He is a little bit of a lazy boy.
Nothing's changed there then...
To be honest it was all a bit of a whirlwind process. One home check later, followed by some fraught decision making sat at a motorway service station, we took the plunge and welcomed Reggie home on 25th June 2015.
I often describe Reggie's first weeks as being likened to dropping an alien from outer space into suburbia! He was pretty much petrified of everything and everyone, we couldn't even get him into the house after collecting him. We then had issues getting him out of the house and out into the big bad world! It actually took us 6 months to get him to cross the main road at the end of our street. It's been a learning curve to say the least and I'm glad we didn't deliberate too long, as we may well have talked ourselves out of the most rewarding thing we've done.
I'll never forget the vet saying at Reggie's first introduction that he must have a beautiful soul. He behaved like a super star on this visit, but I'll admit that the adventure hasn't always run smoothly. Reggie has most certainly had his moments, it's felt like an emotional roller coaster at times and to a certain extent he'll continue to have anxieties, but we're now much better placed to manage these. On occasion we've been frustrated, embarrassed, upset, but every moment of progress has been truly heart-warming. We've adapted to accommodate Reggie, but he's also expanded our world and we've had some fab holidays around this country with him. It may sound like a cliche but time and patience have most definitely been key.
He gives us an intense stare whenever he wants to tell us something (generally that he wants food, closely followed by walkies) and licks his nose if we offer the right answer. Who could resist these amber eyes!
He loves (in no particular order, just in abundance)...Food, walkies, his spot on the sofa (preferably with us two humans alongside), bum, belly and chest strokes, being chased by other dogs or humans of the inner circle, barking, being in the car, his bed, his outdoor day care, open fields, long grass, routine and last but not least, his WAHF partner in crime Lenny (below, also see success stories).
He's very much a creature of habit, he doesn't like surprises. He dislikes overcrowded areas, narrow pathways, road noise, strangers trying to stroke him, being left alone, strangers coming into the house. He's loyal to the point of being overly protective, sensitive and territorial, but he's part of our family.
He's by no means a perfect dog, we've seen 5.30am far too often for my liking, but there's nobody I'd rather share my toast with every morning.
- Olivia Staves
For the very first time, Lagunitas are bringing their legendary Beer Circus across the pond. Lagunitas Brewing Company will be transforming Flat Iron Square on 18th August into a spectacular circus complete with incredible acts you cannot unsee! There will be delicious food trucks, live music, games and prizes.. Beer Circus is a party you don't want to miss! As well as craft beer from Lagunitas you can also expect some limited releases and one-hit-wonders.
Tickets cost £15 with all profits supporting our education, neutering and rescue projects worldwide, compassionately reducing the worlds stray dog population. Tickets include entry, a welcome beer and a beer token.
Click here to get your tickets before they are gone... see you there!
The Bluebird Cafe, the sister restaurant of the popular Chelsea haunt, will host an exclusive Doggie Afternoon Tea every week for guests and their four-legged friends.
Taking place every Sunday from 2.30-5pm, the tea will run in support of Wild at Heart foundation, a charity that focuses on animal welfare projects.
Dogs will be treated to banana and peanut butter vegan cookies, whereas owners can tuck into classic afternoon tea goodies including jam scones, chocolate Swiss rolls, carrot cupcakes and a selection of quintessentially British sandwiches, including cucumber and smoked salmon.
The tea comes in £21.50, including a £1 donation to Wild at Heart.
Pooches will also receive a complementary summer goodie bag including a travel water bowl, treats and toys.
Reservations can be made online at bluebirdcafe.co.uk
'When we first saw Ronnie's little face (was Nancy) on the Wild at Heart Foundation's website, we fell in love. We were desperate to give her a cuddle after seeing her sad little face. That's when we gave the charity a call and let them know we were interested. We knew it could be a potential risk adopting a dog that we've never met, but having spoke to both Alicia at the WAHF and Anca, the vet who rescued and looked after Ronnie, it seemed she would be a perfect fit as our first rescue dog.
Ronnie arrived on a very cold snowy day in January, which must have been such a difficult journey for not only her, but also for Dana (Tails4Travel) delivering tens of dogs all around Europe in these conditions. Ronnie was terrified of her new home to begin with. Tail between her legs and trembling...but after some nice treats and a few cuddles she finally fell asleep next to me. The next couple of weeks were tough as she was frightened of everybody and every single sound. Anybody other than myself and my partner who entered the house got snarled at and snapped at (she never actually bit anybody though). So we made an effort to introduce her to as many people as possible, slowly and in a quiet environment so that she would get accustomed to others and realise that nobody wants to hurt her.
It's been almost 6 months now and we are on our first holiday together, in Cornwall. She's not too sure of the beach but she loves to run around fields and admire coastal views from afar! She's such a loyal dog and loves lazing in bed. Sometimes she doesnt even want to go for a walk because she wants to stay at home, where she knows it's safe and warm. It's become evident that she favours women over men, so we're not sure what may have happened in her past but we're slowly but surely working towards getting that relationship back.
We're amazed at how well behaved she is! She knew from the very first day that the garden was her toilet, and she's never chewed anything other than her own toys (of which she has many!). She's so clever too...learning new tricks and wanting to please us constantly. It's safe to say that she's settled in perfectly, and we couldn't imagine life without her. We can't thanks WAHF and Tails4Travel enough for bringing us our gorgeous pooch!'
- Sabina Ghetau
'For those of you who know our story you will be aware that Luna suffers from chronic epilepsy. It all started on the evening of 28th December 2016, 6 months after we adopted her. We don't know why. Was is the visit to Highgate woods on that day? Was is that all our visitors had left? They started one a day, then progressed onto cluster (multiple seizures in 24 hours) with the odd clear day here and there. We changed food, we cut out all treats and dog food and went with boiled chicken. We tried tablets, but reached the limit of the safe dose. Absolutely nothing stopped them. As the medicine dosage increased we did get more clear days, once we got two weeks, but they would always return in clusters. These were not your normal seizures either. They were full on, violent shaking, foaming, poo, wee, disoriented and confused seizures. Thankfully she very rarely had them in the day, just mainly between the very convenient hours of 1am and 5am!!
Over the year we kept a dairy and started to think that maybe these seizures were stress/anxiety related as she would definitely have one if she's had a trip to the vet or groomers and sometimes if she had been left for a few hours. She would often look really sad when we walked out the front door as if to say "please don't go".
Slowly but surely we started talking about getting another dog, not just to help Luna but because we wanted two dogs (a little one!!) . It was a really difficult decision as we could make things more difficult and stressful for Luna.
To cut a long story short we took the plunge. There was no going through pictures of dogs, Hope popped up on Instagram and that was that!!
Hope arrived with us on 4th January 2018 and Luna had a seizure within a few days. We were so disappointed. But then nothing and the next week nothing and the next. We have gone nearly five months with no seizures !! I know it's still early days but we are marking this as a huge success in the Sullivan household. Unfortunately at the moment the seizures have returned but we believe this is related to Luna coming into season, after being spayed TWICE - did I mention nothing is ever simple or easy with Luna! and should subside when the season has ended.
To say this little dog has changed our lives is an understatement. Hope makes us laugh out loud every single day and will sprint the entire length of the park to say hello to a fellow pooch. Her recall is beyond belief and we marvel at her ability to disappear and then come sprinting from nowhere when called. She is loving, cheeky and VERY destructive. Numerous shoes have been eaten along with computer cables (whilst actually using the computer) and almost all the noses off Jacks soft toys. She has no interest in a ball other than to take it away from Luna but will happily play with an empty water bottle and even carry it all the way home. She already has numerous rosettes from local dog shows as Jack enters her into every category he can. They are quite a team together and just recently Jack has been walking Hope on his own, something he can't do with Luna due to her reactive nature. To watch them walk side by side down the road is pure joy. She is the most loving dog imaginable and the bond that her and Luna have formed is truly beautiful.
WAHF gave us a dog called Hope and this little dog has brought joy and fun to our family and given us hope that with her by her side, Luna can lead a long and fulfilled life.'
- Kate Sullivan
Following the incredible success of our first sterilisation clinic in March, Nikki and the team are travelling back to Puerto Rico today for the next round of SPAYATHON FOR PUERTO RICO - the groundbreaking initiative helping compassionately free the island from its stray dog problem.
A combination of abandonment, lack of spay & neutering and backyard breeding have lead to a huge overpopulation crisis in Puerto Rico. 500 dogs a day are euthanised on the island and that does not include the number of animals that die on the streets from disease, exposure and abuse.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rican government has lifted the ban of foreign veterinarians working in the country for 18 months. We have a window to take action!
JUST £30 WOULD HELP SPAY AND NEUTER ONE DOG, PLEASE DONATE NOW
'We are used to living with 3 dogs and when the oldest passed away last year, a dog sized hole was left in our lives which we felt we had fill. We went to meet a small terrier dog at a nearby rescue centre but immediately knew she was not for us. But as I prepared to leave, my daughter was lying on the floor face to face already besotted with the dog of her dreams, an absolute mutt with short bowed legs and giant splayed out webbed paws, a street dog look she loved from holidays abroad. Duckie we found out was not from this particular dog rescue centre but was being fostered by a wonderful woman who worked there who had taken her into the office. Her first foster home in the UK had broken down and she was awaiting another chance at being re-homed.
We contacted Wild at Heart and Duckie and her foster carers met our other dogs in a park initially and later came for a trial stay which she never returned from. This was a forever home from the moment she arrived.
We were saddened by photos of her just a few months before covered in sores and with very little fur, found in a shelter in Sarajevo with no natural daylight, alongside huge numbers of other dogs and surviving on dry bread and water only. She had clearly been there a long time. Her back claws had grown right round and into her feet. We still do not know how old she is but guess maybe around 6 or 7.
Despite her harsh experiences and false start at her first re-homing, we have found Duckie to be an absolute heart winning bundle of joy. We were told she loved her toys and was possessive over them and would want to be hidden away in her crate a lot of the time. Within a couple of days though, she had no interest in her toys, adopted the lazy boys as her beds of choice and established herself firmly as a benign leader over our other acquiescent elderly collies. Our only real issues from the beginning were walks and food. For weeks Duckie thought walks were an unnecessary removal away from the kitchen dog bowls and would turn round after under a minute and head home at great speed. This has just resolved itself with time as she has discovered the delights of being off lead in a pack of dogs and every day I am still thrilled at the sight of her strutting along tail high up in the air enjoying all the smells and meetings with other dogs. I think she will always be somewhat anxious about food and we just feed her in a different room from the other dogs as part of her will always panic that this might be the last meal....ever.
Duckie has snapped at but not bitten visitors a couple of times over the months we have her. On each occasion, it has been when she was on a chair and a nervous visitor approached very slowly, holding her eye gaze too long checking if she was friendly. She has interpreted this as threatening. She is so relaxed now she seems not to worry about anyone but it was easy for the first months just to tell people to pet her immediately or ignore her and not seek overlong eye contact from the front, and not hold onto her even if she seemed to be enjoying a cuddle.
She is a huge daft little character and makes us laugh so much every day. She is greatly loved by myself, my daughter and all our friends and has fitted in perfectly.'
- Julia Wilkins
We are absolutely thrilled to announce our latest partnership with the Humane Society of the United States.
In less than one month, 23 organisations from around the world will come together for one goal —to help the people and animals of Puerto Rico.
The initiative, Spayathon for Puerto Rico, aims to spay/neuter 20,000 animals in underserved communities across the Commonwealth by 2019. With the support of Governor Ricardo Rosselló and First Lady Beatriz Rosselló, the Humane Society of the United States formed a coalition of partners to carry out this historic endeavor.
Veterinary teams from Emancipet, ViDAS, Veterinarians for Puerto Rico, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University, Helping Paws Across Borders , Puerto Rico Veterinary Association and Puerto Rico Board of Veterinary Examiners will provide veterinarians who are trained in high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter.
ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance will also provide training for Puerto Rico veterinarians to increase the number of veterinarians on the island who can implement the high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter. At the conclusion of the campaign, the HSUS will also donate equipment locally to help further the animal welfare efforts in Puerto Rico.
Nikki and the team have spent this week in Puerto Rico, and, incredibly, have exceeded our target of sterilising over 1,000 animals in just 6 days.
Since arrival, word of our work spread fast, and locals have been queuing from 3am each morning to visit us at the clinic in Sabana Grande.
We have been working closely with a team of 15 incredible vets from VIDAS, who without, none of this would be possible. The VIDAS team have been working 18 hours a day to ensure we hit our target! We are completely in awe of how amazing and inspiring they have been.
Nikki has been working in the post operation recovery area all week learning all sorts of medical practice...and has loved every second! After such a successful week and ques of hundreds of people we are so thrilled to announce that we will be returning in June to run a second clinic with the Vidas team.
We were also delighted to be joined by the legendary Steve-O from Jackass, who helped us fly 120 dogs to the United States on a private plane from Canitas Shelter in Guayama. An unbelievably inspiring and emotional moment...one of many this week! None of this would be possible without your generous donations, so thank you so much from the bottom of out hearts and please help us to continue to help by donating now.
The iconic florist and my good friend Nikki Tibbles chats to me about her rescue dog charity Wild at Heart Foundation.
Nikki and co-founder, Nadine Kayser, are a formidable force to be reckoned with in the animal welfare community and I am super excited to share her story.
Nadine and yourself come from different professional backgrounds, how did your paths cross and how did Wild at Heart Foundation begin?
I had already been helping a shelter in Southern Spain rehoming their dogs to my friends and family and recently started working with an amazing girl called Anca in Romania, @anca_miki, rehoming her dogs that she had found outside. Anka had found a litter of puppies that were abandoned and I was looking to rehome them all. Nadine had contacted me through Instagram with the view to adopting one of the puppies. We met, with me doing my ‘sort of’ home check and we talked about the plight of the stray dog in this world. I said I had always wanted to set up a charity and Nadine said straight away she wanted to help and it was her idea that we should call it Wild at Heart Foundation.
What were some of the hurdles you faced setting up Wild at Heart Foundation?
Having the amazing Nadine there meant there weren’t really many hurdles. But setting up a charity is not an easy thing and rightly so, it is extremely difficult. The processes, systems and paper work is extraordinarily daunting but that is something Nadine is just so brilliant at.
Most charities are driven by a clear sense of vision – what is Wild at Heart Foundations vision?
We didn’t want to have a charity that was just two women trying to rescue and rehome a few dogs and do a bit of good. It’s a much bigger vision, its global. There are around 600 million stray dogs in this world and that is a very estimated figure. Ideally what we would like to do is raise awareness of this and to stop the mass inhumane culling of stray dogs all over the world and to stop these unwanted dogs ever being born. Therefore, the biggest vision of the Foundation is global spaying/neutering clinics and education, and education that comes from within like our project with Animals Asia in Hong Kong and China. If we can educate children to be kind and compassionate and know how to treat animals, then that stems us for good stead for the future.
I’m sure you have lots of success stories to share, but which one stands out the most for you?
There are so many but one that stands out is about a good friend of ours called Lily who adopted Jeffrey into her family of two young children. They have since gone on to adopt another dog through the Foundation, the gorgeous Dolly, they pretty much look identical. Both are spotty, very fluffy Poodle type breeds that after being rescued from Cyprus have fitted in so well. The children are very much involved, they walk them to school, read to them and have even started writing stories about them. It’s just so wonderful how much joy they can bring to our lives and change them for the better.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
Our plans and hopes for the future are something permanent in Puerto Rico, we are looking at either building a shelter or working with an existing shelter. Continuous spay and neutering clinics and also a mobile spaying and neutering van. We also want to raise significant amounts of money and raise awareness, it’s been incredible this year, with the Adopt Don’t Shop campaign with articles in The Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Woman and Home.
We have lots of plans for the future and look to expand our projects all over the world. We are now working in Hong Kong, China, South Africa, Swaziland, Romania, Cyprus, Bosnia, Greece, Lesbos, Corfu, Puerto Rico and Borneo. We are also looking to work on projects in the Ukraine.
Many charities closely associated, collaborate well together. Do you find this happens with animal rescue charities or could more be done in working together for the greater good of animals?
I think animal charities could certainly learn from working together for the greater good of animals. Charities, like Battersea Dogs and Cats home, which is such a well-known brand and have such a powerful voice, could use that for the plight of a dog worldwide and to encourage to spay, neuter and adopt. I would love to see a lot more collaborations between the larger charities and the smaller ones, to help them grow and achieve their goals.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have met some of the amazing four legged characters you have personally adopted.I know since then there have been a few more additions to your pack – how did they steal your heart.
Oh my God! I have my six gorgeous dogs. The two most recent are, my little Rita. At 10 days old she was dumped on a highway in Puerto Rico and was handed to me on the day I arrived there, and she literally slept round my neck for 10 days while I was there, so of course I had to bring her home. The second newest addition is Ruby who looks very much like my two Ridgeback crosses from Battersea, Reuben and Mazie who are unfortunately no longer with us. She was in a cage so small that she couldn’t even stand up in, all the way at the back of the shelter and she had also been deemed not rehomable. I put my hand on her cage and she put her paw on my hand, so she was taken out of the cage and obviously had to come home with me. Of course I have to mention my Big Len who was thrown down a well at six months old, Tia who was caught in a trap and had to gnaw her own tail off, little Ronnie or should I say big Ronnie, he is twice the size of the litter, who is the reason I met Nadine and last but not least Smith who was locked in a cage for three years with a broken jaw.
Essentially, I tend to take dogs that no one else wants, I don’t really care what they are, what they look like or how badly behaved they might be. I believe that with love, time, patience, security and routine they will always be incredible in their own way.
Anyone having met you would agree your energy and tenacity in helping as many unfortunate dogs that populate our world is unprecedented. We have chatted about the importance of educating the younger generation and what a difference it could make for the future. Can you share any of the educational projects that Wild At Heart Foundation is working on?
Education obviously is key for all areas of our world. It’s about the way we eat, the way we live, the way we waste. The state of our world for me is just not sustainable in any shape or form and the only way to make a difference, in all areas and long term, is through education. We need to educate children to be kind and compassionate, to be aware of what has happened to that animal to get a piece of meat on our plate. To not be wasteful to be respectful. If people are educated they have a choice of how to behave, if they don’t care that a pig has been kept in the most horrific circumstances or a dog tortured to within an inch of its life before being killed for food in China then change will not happen. I think we should all be armed with knowledge so that we can then decide how to act, so that means working with the younger generation who can really help change this world.
Finally, what advice would you give someone who is looking to adopt a dog?
Saving a life has to be one of the most incredible things we can do. When we say we are adopting that dog we are saving that dog’s life and that dog saves our life too. I think we need to work hard to make people aware that adopted dogs are not damaged, this is what most people feel, but they are not. They are the most extraordinary creatures. Also, with that, is something that I know you, Barry, are strongly working on, people should make sure they are buying a dog that suites their life style and family and that is really important. Also making people aware that one in three dogs purchased are coming from puppy mills, which is another big story we are trying to get out there. If you are going to buy then make sure you do so responsibly, meet the dog’s parents, see where it has been born and brought up and see the litter. It is so important you do your research to make sure that breed of dog is right for you and you have the time and experience needed to take care of that dog. So many dogs, especially after Christmas, are gifted or abandoned at the gates of the RSPCA or Battersea purely because it has been an impulse buy of a designer breed. But for me saving a life is the most important thing we can do.
Written by Barry Karacostas The Dog Jogger
To celebrate the Year of the Dog, Wild at Heart Foundation have partnered with our friends at Bloom & Wild to support our goal of reducing the world’s 600 million stray dog population through sterilisation programmes, education, rehoming and caring for dogs in danger.
Bloom & Wild are kindly donating 10% of sales from the Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart collection to the Foundation until February 22, 2018.
You can shop the collection here and find out more about our cover star Lenny!
WIN WITH WAHF
Nikki and the gorgeous Lenny recently featured in Marks & Spencer’s ‘Say It Now’ campaign – celebrating all different kinds of LOVE
Lenny inspired Nikki to set up the Wild at Heart Foundation with Nadine Kayser, so we are asking you, what is it about your dog that you love so much
To be in with a chance of winning a special Valentine's Wild at Heart Foundation bouquet worth £250, set up a regular giving of £10 or more to Wild at Heart Foundation, including a note as to why your dog is so special to you
Just in time for Valentine's Day, the lucky winner will be announced on February 13th. Set up your regular giving here.
Get your hands on a copy of the February 2018 issue of Woman and Home to read all about our Co-founders Nikki Tibbles & Nadine Kayser and why they started Wild at Heart Foundation.
'The sofas look better with dogs on them': A holiday in Puerto Rico inspired celebrity florist NIKKI TIBBLES to launch a global dog rescue charity. And, she tells Liz Jones, she can’t help bringing her work home with her…
I’ve never been so jealous. Not just that Nikki Tibbles, florist to the stars, is gamine and beautiful in a seemingly effortless, fine-boned, Mia-Farrowish way. Or has a huge house in Notting Hill. Or the fact that said house is stuffed with gorgeous sofas, paintings on every inch of wall, and coffee-table books. Or that the basement kitchen island is as big and bright as a polar icecap. She has a banker boyfriend, too, which I don’t particularly hanker after, but which must help. She even has a wordless housekeeper, Alcina, who has been with her for 15 years, and keeps bearing vegan snacks.
I want her life, but what really makes me green as ivy is that I’m greeted by no fewer than six wet pointy noses belonging to her rescued dogs Tia, Lenny, Rita, Ruby, Smith and Ronnie, a mass of ginger and grey fur and practically no barking at all (does she drug them? ‘They’re fed homemade vegetarian dishes’). They shine with health, trust and love, which is incredible, given the state they were in when she found them. Take the biggest, Lenny, who was thrown down a well in Spain. And my favourite, a grey-muzzled black lab. ‘That’s Tia. Her tail was caught in a hunter’s trap and she gnawed herself free. I got her because she had been in a tiny kennel for four years. She kept trying to chew her stump, so she had to wear a protective collar for ages.’
What happens when Nikki takes them for a walk? ‘If I have two or three it’s easy, but not all six together as they become a proper pack. It can be difficult in Hyde Park. It’s easier when we take some to my house in West Sussex; they rotate.’ But they have no problem fitting on her bed. We troop up three flights of stairs, past paintings of – you guessed it – dogs and roses, to her gorgeous master bedroom. The dogs pile on, like a hirsute, mainly ginger jigsaw.
But nothing else seems to fit. Nikki, who won’t reveal her age, shows off earlobes studded with jewels and a sweater with a dog embroidered on it. How does she marry her love of beautiful things with, let’s be honest, a motley crew of Muttleys? ‘My dogs are my home. I’m not precious. The sofas look better with dogs on them than they do without.’ (For the record, the house smells of Diptyque’s Baies and Wild at Heart’s Lait de Figue.)
It’s clear that this dynamic, well-connected owner of fashionable florist Wild at Heart, who did the flowers for the weddings of Poppy Delevingne, Guy Ritchie (‘we grew all the flowers in his garden for that’), Nicky Hilton and James Rothschild – in fact, anyone posh you care to throw a tulip at – is an animal nut. Nikki may give the impression of floating through a charmed life – the silk pyjamas, the flower portraits (she supports two wonderful organisations: Intoart and KCAT in Kilkenny, Ireland; both work with people with learning disabilities) – but like her bouquets, there are woody stems beneath the surface. She grew up in Bristol. Her father was a carpenter who had been a prisoner of war in the Second World War, her mother a hairdresser. They both ‘worked hard to put me through a convent school until I was 18.
‘So it was just me, really. And a houseful of animals. We had a boxer dog who had been given to my dad, which is why I love houndy types. At one point, we had five dogs at home. My parents would wake up to find me downstairs, sleeping in the dog beds. My dad was amazing: he would bring home a bird with a broken wing, rabbits, cats…’
Nikki was ‘completely’ dyslexic. ‘Growing up, I wanted to be a vet. Then I wanted to do something creative. But I can’t paint or draw, compose or sing.’ She started work in an advertising agency, but hated it. ‘I always loved colour and beautiful things around me. Then some friends asked me to help with the flowers for their wedding.’
HOW TO MAKE A DOG FEEL AT HOME
Wild at Heart Foundation’s resident behaviourist David Drew shares his tips for helping a new pet settle in…
Dogs can arrive stressed and need a few quiet days to adjust. Allow them to get used to their new family and avoid overwhelming them at first with meeting strangers or even going for walks, especially around traffic.
Consider house rules and boundaries, where the dog is to sleep, its feeding and toilet routines. If you are unaware of the existing diet, provide cooked chicken and rice initially to avoid upsetting its digestive system.
Give your dog a place to go where it feels safe, allowing it the option to use its flight response to avoid difficult situations. A crate with a bed inside is a good idea.
Teach your dog to be alone for short periods. Separation anxiety can arise quickly, as new owners return to their normal routine. Gradually build up time spent apart, teaching the dog to be independent.
Sometimes food or resource guarding can occur, especially in dogs that have been deprived. Give the dog space to eat in peace and a bed of its own to sleep in.
Watch out for signs of stress and warning signals, such as lip licking and pacing, to keep your dog under its stress threshold.
If you have problems, the quicker they are addressed, the better the chances are of eradicating them. Contact the rescue organisation, a qualified behaviourist or experienced trainer.
Nikki loved it and landed a job in a high-street Interflora shop. ‘I was living round the corner from here and the tenancy of Turquoise Island [a listed building that’s now part shop, part public loo] on Westbourne Grove came up. I applied and I got it.’ She now has branches in Pimlico and inside Liberty, but that first year in 1993/4 was all graft. ‘I used to get up at 4am every day. I hadn’t been trained, so I didn’t have any rules. I just did what I liked. I think the most attractive trait in anyone is generosity, so if we can convey that through the flowers that’s a nice thing. I like abundance.’
Then, 15 years ago, Nikki went on a life-changing holiday to Puerto Rico. She met Neva Kaya, the founder of the charity Puerto Rico Dog Fund, and, proving she is nothing if not intrepid, she ‘spent the entire two weeks rescuing dogs’. She recalls: ‘I came across two stray puppies on the side of the road and took them back to my hotel. No one wanted them so, six months later, when they had had their vaccines, I flew them to LA, then from LA to Paris, and finally brought them home.’
Nikki’s Puerto Rican puppies Rose and Lily joined her adored Battersea Dogs Home rescues, Reuben and Maizie. When Maizie died eight years ago, Nikki was heartbroken. ‘I was more upset about Maizie than my mum because I knew my mum was with my dad. When my mum died about 12 years ago, she said, “I’m going to see your father tonight.” She’d been ill a long time. My father died of cancer and they had been together since they were 16. She was so happy and she died that night. I hadn’t spent much time with my parents, just once a month after I left home aged 17. But with a dog, that relationship is 24/7. They’re the most consistent thing in your life.’
When Rose died a year later, Nikki promised she would get another dog from abroad. In 2014, hearing about the problem of strays in Romania, she found herself trying to secure homes for a litter of puppies, one of whom was her beloved dog Ronnie. Then Nadine Kayser, the global head of communications for management consultancy Steer Davies Gleave, got in touch about adopting one. Nikki recalls: ‘We met and I told her I wanted to set up a charity. So that’s how we started.’
Determined to stem the rising population of 600 million street dogs worldwide, the pair launched the Wild at Heart Foundation (WAHF) in 2015. Funded by profits from Nikki’s flower business as well as fundraising, it supports tiny charities in South Africa, Spain, Romania, Greece, Puerto Rico and the UK. Dogs needing homes are placed on the WAHF website and Nikki’s staff do the vetting and home checks. It has become the go-to site for celebrities looking for pets: Noel Gallagher, Sophie Dahl and Louise Redknapp have all fallen for abandoned or unwanted dogs.
In January 2017, Nikki returned to Puerto Rico to help set up a sanctuary. ‘Neva handed me Rita [so grey and wiry, you want to scrub pans with her], who could just fit in my hands. She had been dumped on the highway. I had to have her. I got Ruby at the same time. So I had Rita and Ruby and 30 pit bulls in my hotel room.’ Did anyone object? ‘They didn’t know!’ And the pit bulls? ‘They’re extraordinary. So loyal and stoic. Not once did I feel scared.’
So when news broke of Hurricane Maria ravaging the island last September, Nikki didn’t hesitate to go out and help in whatever way she could. ‘When we landed, it was chaos. There was no phone signal, no electricity, no running water. The dog shelters had been flattened and flooded; dogs had to be placed in crates and moved to higher ground.’ The island already had a stray dog population of half a million; many are used for fighting or are tethered on someone’s property. ‘There were these extraordinary dogs roaming the streets or lying lifeless in the road.’ Nikki stayed for ten days. With no water, food or fuel readily available, one of the charity volunteers would spend up to six hours queuing to buy food for the dogs.
Helping animals is a vocation for Nikki. ‘My friends think I’m crazy. When I went to Puerto Rico last time, they said, “Do not come back with any more dogs!” I resisted. It was heartbreaking. I’d have 50 if I could.’ What does her boyfriend, Will Thompson, think? (He has children, while Nikki is child free.) ‘Will loves them and the two new little ones. I woke up last week and Ruby had got under the duvet. She had her head on the pillow and her paw around him.’
People often view rescue dogs with suspicion. ‘Smith, from Spain, is the most troubled, having been abused, but he is fine with people. Like all of us, we function well when we feel loved and safe and have routine. You don’t really know what you are getting with a pedigree dog, especially now when so many are inbred. I’ve never had a bad experience with a rescue dog. I encourage people with children to adopt dogs; it’s so beneficial. It teaches kids how to take care of and love a creature. I have a friend who adopted two poodle crosses from Cyprus, and her kids read to them at night; they have come on in leaps and bounds. If I could get compassion on the national curriculum, I’d die happy.’
So is she a soft or stern mummy with her pack? ‘I’m very soft. I really need Lenny and Ronnie to do what they’re told because they’re big. But at home, if they don’t sit the first time, I tell them, “Well, whatever.”’
MEET THE PACK
1. Smith is orange, so is very glad Ed Sheeran has found fame. He is about eight or nine. He had been tortured in Spain: he had a broken jaw, shattered eardrum and broken ribs. He had been locked in a cage for three years.
2. Ronnie is four and has no tail, but this doesn’t stop him wagging. His mother had been shot, then decapitated and he had been left for dead with her in a Romanian forest. He is partially deaf, so responds to touch.
3. Ruby is thought to be a boxer/ridgeback, and was rescued in January 2017, at the same time as Rita, from Puerto Rico when she was around three months old. ‘Ruby was in a crate so small she could barely stand. She had been found abandoned and was considered unmanageable. Now she is up for everything and just wants to play.’
4. Lenny is a Spanish mastiff cross, and a bear of a dog. ‘He was discovered 20ft down a well in the middle of nowhere in southern Spain, along with a rottweiler. He still doesn’t like small spaces.’
5. Rita is grey with wiry fur. ‘She is the happiest dog. She was rescued when I met her as a puppy in Puerto Rico and arrived in April last year.’
6. Tia, who is aged 11 to 13, is Nikki’s first dog from Spain. ‘I got her in 2010. She had been caught by her tail in a hunter’s snare and had chewed it off to escape. When she was found, her stump was infected and so painful she couldn’t sit down. She loves affection, but keeps herself to herself.’
Written by Liz Jones in You Magazine Sunday 28th January 2018
Photos by Michael Clements