Following her nomination for a SuperDog Award, we caught up with vivacious Rebeckah Vaughan about her journey from Big Brother star to a successful businesswoman thanks to her love of dogs.
How did you go from Big Brother contestant to dog business owner?
I actually owned No More Kennels before I went into the Big Brother House. It was very small scale, nothing like it is today.
I was travelling all over the UK for work and I had two little dogs. One was called Juicy and one was called Puffin. Juicy was a Papillon and Puffin was a Chinese Crested Powder Puff. They were my whole world.
My mum used to have them while I was travelling and then my mum rescued a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and they just didn’t mix. I was having to decline work because I had nowhere to stay with the dogs and the hotels I had to stay in wouldn’t accept them. There was no air BnB back then, this was about 15 years ago. And there certainly weren’t any dog hotels. People didn’t home board, there were just kennels, that’s all.
I had to work, I had bills to pay and I had to make the worst decision of my life, I had to re-home them. So, they went to live on a farm, it was better for them. But I was absolutely heartbroken. I probably lasted a week and I tried to get them back. I said to the women ‘I cannot live without these dogs, please can I have them back?' She was lovely and she was really realistic and said, ‘what about your job, you can’t take them to work with you.’ I said, ‘I know but I miss them’.
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I didn’t really know much about dogs back then and I thought ‘what if I get a really tiny little Chihuahua that I could take with me. And the Chihuahua can stay in the hotel and I can come back and do work and the Chihuahua will be at the hotel with me and it will be OK.' I was so naive!
The Chihuahua was very yappy. She was called Poochy. I took to travelling with her in a little bag and I smuggled her into hotels. One day I came back to the room and as I pressed the button for the lift this burly security guard was holding my little Chihuahua and I said, ‘that’s my dog!’ He said, ‘you are not allowed dogs in this hotel, we’ve had complaints about noise'. And when they let themselves into the room she had torn the carpet up, she had caused so much damage to the room. So, that went out the window. But I couldn’t part with her. I just couldn’t do it. So, I had to give up my job for the love of this crazy little Chihuahua and I did my admin work from home.
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I had a look and there were no home borders there was nothing like that about. So, I just put a little advert on Gumtree and it said. 'I’ve got a little Chihuahua her name’s Poochy, this is a little picture of her. If you want me to mind your dog at my house, I’m more than happy for you to drop your dog off, I don’t mind.’ I didn’t even know how much to charge I just said £10.
Just putting the feelers out there to see how it goes and oh my gosh it just went crazy. It went from nothing to fully booked in about 3 weeks. From one little Gumtree advert. I was just amazed, I couldn’t believe it. My house was 6 bedrooms and it had 3 floors but I could only have 6 dogs in there because I already had Poochy and I didn’t want to put them into rooms that were carpeted. I couldn’t say no to people. So I thought, I was effectively unemployed so, 'you know what? Give it a whirl, you never know'.
How did you find your Big Brother experience?
When I went into Big Brother I was very naive. I’m now 38 years old, this was back in 2011 and I didn’t come across very well. Back then it was the only reality TV show. Twitter had only just started so I didn’t know how I was being perceived. I didn’t know how to play the game. I think if I went on it now, I would be so different. I was just a young girl and it didn’t go down very well. But you live and learn and it opened so many doors for me.
I didn’t go to the final which I regret, and I turned down everything that followed it. I didn’t want anything to do with reality TV, nothing at all. I just wanted to focus on No More Kennels and being with the dogs.
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How do you think dogs change our lives?
I always say that dogs saved my life. I was diagnosed with Bipolar around about age 13/14 and I’ve been on medication ever since. Whether I should have been on reality TV is something I’m not sure of. But I don’t blame Big Brother for that, I just think it wasn’t right for me. When I came out of the house I was in quite a dark place. And I have been a few times during my life so my dogs have given me a reason for living.
When you live alone and you have pets that rely on you and you’ve been so low that you 'I just don’t want to be here anymore’. And then you think, ‘but what would Poochy do? Who is going to feed her and care for her?’ So you are forced into saying ‘Come on. Sort yourself out!’ I definitely feel that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my dogs.
How many pets do you have?
Poochy passed away a few months ago and I have a rescue German Shepard called Casey. She is 10 years old. She will not leave my side. I can’t even go to the loo without her. I have three French Bulldogs, one called Blue-Blue, one called Luna Chimp and one called Gaston. They are crazy, absolutely wild, and they bring me so much joy. They are so much fun.
I have 2 monkeys that are rescued from the pet trade. They are marmoset monkeys and they were rescued from two houses. One was living in a birdcage in someone’s kitchen and the other was in a mock shed, aviary somewhere. And now they are living in an enclosure in my house and living their best life.
I also have two cats one is called Maggy and one is called Lil' Pat and they're both rescues. So, it’s quite a busy house and we’ve got No More Kennels as well, which is just amazing.
Tell us more about No More Kennels.
We're now licensed for 75 dogs. We offer loads of different things. We have a pet Porsche - we can fetch dogs in the pet Porsche. We offer a wedding chaperone service, we pick the dogs up and they come to the spa at the hotel. They have a lovely slap-up meal of steak, rice and chips - whatever they want. The next day they dress in their little tux or their bows or whatever, we give them a little groom and they’re taken in the pet Porsche to the wedding where we chaperone them all day.
At the wedding we offer them treats and get them to look up to have their pictures taken. We engage with them and then, while mum and dad are dancing or signing the paperwork, we take them to one side. If they've done a little something we pick up the poo’s. People love having their dogs as part of their wedding.
Are you coming to DogFest?
It's the ultimate day out for you and your dog with loads of fun things to do.
September is all fun and games with DogFest South kicking off in Hertfordshire on the 11th &12th followed by DogFest West on at Gloucestershire on the 18th & 19th.
Best of all, you can meet Rebeckah who will be at Dogfest North, Tatton Park, Cheshire on 25th & 26th September so make sure you get tickets for the best day out ever!
We offer training. I’m a qualified groomer, so we do grooms. We do beach trips. We have a huge doggie van where we pick up the dogs and take them to the beach, or take them on woodland walks. If you take a look at No More Kennels website, it’s all listed there. We offer a vet chaperone service so if people don’t want to take their dogs to the vet, if they’re busy, we do that too.
We offer end of life services so if we have some customers who just cannot say goodbye to their dogs, they’ll drop them with us and we’ll handle it. They hand over the responsibility to us. We would take them to any vet appointments and when it comes to it, we will be with them to make sure they’re not alone. It’s a really vital service that we provide because some owners are not strong enough to do that. And we don’t want the dogs to be on their own when this happens. So, they come to us, they have the best little doggie holiday and then they make their journey over Rainbow Bridge.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
It’s difficult to say. I have been offered a lot of TV work, especially around No More Kennels and people wanting to come and film at the Hotel. People wanting to film me, wanting to do a day in the life of a luxury dog hotel. There are many reasons I’ve declined that. One is the fact that we have a lot of high profile clients who bring their dogs to us who have made us all sign NDA’s to say that their dogs can’t appear on social media.
There are other reasons too. I’ve been on the other end of trolling and I don’t want to subject anyone else to that. I have 31 members of staff who didn’t sign up for TV, they just love dogs and putting them out there just wouldn’t be fair. That's why I’ve declined those offers.
I write a lot of blogs, a lot of press features on canine behaviour and a lot of tips on how to look after your dogs. And I’ve appeared on TV shows when it comes to dogs and care of your dogs and looking after dogs because, for me, that’s my life.
Enter Our National Dog Day Competition: your dog could win one of two thousand prizes up for grabs from Pooch & Mutt. The competition is open till midnight on Monday the 13th September.
I really want to move away from the whole Big Brother thing, it was over a decade ago. I’m so lucky with the doors that opened for me and I appreciate that. If I want to pursue the title of being the go-to person for dogs and owning the UK’s biggest and first luxury dog hotel, I have to refer back to that because that is how I got here today. But further down the pipeline, I can see my career in the dog world going from strength to strength.
For me, the most important thing is my day-to-day real life and how the hotel runs, and how that works and how many dogs I can work with as a behaviourist.
We make a lot of money for Rescue Me which is a local charity that is really important to me. We had Santa Paws at our Doggie Grotto, and that made thousands of pounds for our local charity which is so important to me.
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We get a lot of pampered pooches and they're loving life and they’re great. We also get the dogs that are terrified, that need additional help and that’s really important, that’s my future. I know it doesn’t sound very glamorous. I just love dogs so much, I love working with them, I love training them, I love being able to change their lives. That’s what it’s about.
And if I get all the other perks like coming to DogFest, being a judge because I wear the blue coat, that was one of my jobs. You know being on stage obviously, I love it. You don’t go on Big Brother if you are not a bit of a show-off. So, living life through dogs for me is just amazing.
Do you plan to open more No More Kennels hotels?
I’ll never franchise, I’ve been offered crazy amounts of money to franchise, but I’ll never do it because I know every single dog that’s in my hotel. I know their personalities, their traits, I know what they like and I won’t be able to do that if I franchise. So that’s a definite no-no.
What is your ultimate life dream?
My dream is having No More Kennels being known for being the biggest, the first, the best dog hotel - for me is just … my dream.
Rebeckah is nominated for a SuperDog Award!
Rebeckah's passion for dogs and compassion for their wellbeing has earned her a nomination for a SuperDog Campaigner Award 'because her love of dogs goes beyond the realm of puppy cuddles and slobbery kisses". She set up a charity called Help a Homeless Dog that collects food, sleeping bags and medication for dogs living on the streets with their homeless humans. Rebeckah raises awareness for the needs of these vulnerable dogs on her social channels as well as mainstream media and then distributes these vital items herself or via a homeless shelter.
Help Rebeckah to reach the finals of the Naturo SuperDog Awards by voting for her
before midnight on the 19th of September. She certainly has our vote!
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