Wild at Heart Foundation is both brain-child, passion project and raison d’etre for Nikki Tibbles. In just a few short years, this woman has transformed her personal passion into something that has now become a professional, meaningful, and truly life-changing venture. The charity’s work now stretches across all four corners of the globe, with thousands of rescue dogs adopted into loving, happy homes, tens of thousands more sterilised (preventing the unwanted birth of literally millions of puppies), and resource, educational and financial support provided to many local communities and projects around the world to help them solve the mounting stray dog problems in their area.
There’s not many people who could launch such a dynamic project, all whilst running an award-winning, world-renowned floristry business at the same time. But for those of you that have met Nikki and have seen her passion, drive and unstoppable determination to make the world a better place, then it’ll come as no surprise to learn just how much she has poured her heart and soul into making Wild at Heart Foundation a success.
Barry Karacostas (aka The Dog Jogger) took the time to chat with Nikki about the early days of the Foundation, and what inspired her to make it the charity it is today:
“The iconic florist and my good friend Nikki Tibbles chats to me about her rescue dog charity Wild at Heart Foundation. Nikki is a formidable force to be reckoned with in the animal welfare community and I am super excited to share her story.”
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, rehoming her dogs that she had found outside. Anca had found a litter of puppies that were abandoned and I was looking to rehome them.
I’d spent years rescuing dogs from overseas on a personal level, often bringing dogs back with me after trips to Europe and finding them the perfect homes amongst friends and clients, and I wanted to find a way to turn this passion into something more permanent, something wider reaching. Wild at Heart Foundation had been a seed growing in my mind for many many years – in 2015, it was wonderful to finally see it blossom into the charity I had always dreamed of.
Most charities are driven by a clear sense of vision – what is Wild at Heart Foundations vision?
From the start, I knew that I didn’t want to have a charity that was just another woman trying to rescue and rehome a few dogs and do a bit of good. It’s a much bigger vision, it’s 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.
Teddy before and after
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
The Foundation has grand plans in the making, and our hopes for the future include 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, Lesvos, Puerto Rico and Borneo.
Nikki leading the Recovery Team at Wild at Heart Foundation’s sterilisation clinic, Puerto Rico
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 who I love more than anything in the world.
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!), 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. But without education, how can they be mindful to the decisions they are making? If they don’t know 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 a rescue 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.
– interview by Barry Karacostas, The Dog Jogger