Animal lover Emma Billington shares her home with 35 dogs who she has rescued from all over the world
And she has a dream to turn her free running rescue into an adventure playground so she can help more dogs find forever homes.
Emma has saved hundreds of dogs from Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus as well as many from the UK at Dogs4Rescue in Manchester which she set up in 2013.
It’s ‘cage free’ meaning the dogs spend their days scampering around fields, running through tunnels, chasing balls and playing in the sandpit.
And at night, the dogs go inside the farmhouse Emma, 40, shares with her partner Louise Fields, 32, and settle down in their beds.
Playtime for the pups at Dogs4Rescue © Matt Pover Photography
Emma's dogs wait patiently for their treats © Matt Pover Photography
Emma says being cage free helps the dogs to become socialised and enhances their chances of being adopted
She explains: “We have the free running rescue as many people find going to a shelter and seeing dogs in cages upsetting.
“It can be stressful and lonely for the dogs, especially if they have come from a home environment so we wanted to do something different.
“Here they see them happy and running around with their friends and living with us in a house like our own pets. It means the dogs are already used to being part of a family.”
Emma and Louise don’t just have dogs - there’s three pigs, three sheep, two goats, two turkeys, three ducks, a goose, four rabbits, four ferrets and four rats.
Every night the dogs sleep in their home - fortunately it’s a large farmhouse - and they’re all put in different rooms depending on size, age and temperament.
Emma has worked for months to create a stimulating environment for the dogs © Matt Pover Photography
The dogs have so much fun © Matt Pover Photography
Living with 35 dogs isn't as crazy as you'd think
Emma says: “People think it must be really noisy with lots of barking, but you can hear a pin drop when it’s bedtime because they’re so worn out after playing all day.
“You feel like you’re forever cleaning and washing beds and bowls and feeding them, but it’s worth it. The dogs are my world.”
Growing up, Emma wasn’t allowed a dog and it was in 2001 when she was working as a computer programmer in Manchester City Centre that her life changed.
She was on her lunch hour and heard what she describes as a ‘terrible screaming’ and found a Staffie tied up in a yard.
Emma bravely befriended her owner and found she was called Lucky and was being used as a breeding dog. It broke her heart and she vowed to try to help her.
Seeing Lucky suffer made her determined to bring happiness to other dogs © Matt Pover Photography
There's no shortage of toys to play with © Matt Pover Photography
Devoted Emma broke down as she shared her story
“I felt helpless,” she said. “Because she had an owner there was nothing the authorities could do, so the only option I had was to make friends with the man she lived with.
“He’d let me visit her and give her cuddles and take her to mine for the occasional weekend. It was respite from her sad life. One day, she broke her chain and went looking for me and was hit by a car.
“I was heartbroken. Then the man got another dog, Sandy and chained her up just the same as Lucky. Eventually he died and I got to take her home for good.
“I thought ‘I can’t have another dog living like that,’ and I quit my job, got a house of my own so I could keep her, bought a van off eBay and set up a dog walking business.”
Emma Billington - founder of Dogs4Rescue © Matt Pover Photography
The dogs are showered with affection © Matt Pover Photography
Some of the dogs will live with Emma forever
Their needs are so complex they can’t be rehomed, like Bulgarian Sheepdog Sherry who arrived five years ago - she’d been shot while searching for food.
Emma spent thousands on surgery to remove her back legs as she was paralysed and had sores from dragging them around. Now she has a trolley and is happy running on her front legs.
Another heartwarming story is that of Winston who came from Romania. His ears and tail had been hacked off and he was terrified of people.
Winston spent two happy years with Emma until sadly dying of a heart attack on Bonfire Night, shortly after she invited us along to learn more about her work.
Emma said: “Winston had such a sad life before he came to us but we take comfort that the last years were happy surrounded by other dogs and people who loved him.
“Sherry is such a brave girl. She’s so happy and is a real matriarch - she keeps the rest of the dogs in order and on her wheels she’s as fast as lightening.
“When she was brought to a home in the UK she was kept in a cage and the people who had her wanted to send her back because she was ‘smelly.’
“So she came here and she’s the face of the rescue. I take her into schools to meet children to help them learn to be kind to dogs and she recently won a Hero Dog award at the Family Pet Show.”
Emma with Sherry © Matt Pover Photography
Emma and Winston © Matt Pover Photography
Educating people about rescue dogs is important to Emma
She wants to focus on encouraging people to consider rescue dogs and to change people’s perceptions of them.
Emma believes that letting dogs be dogs in calm, loving surroundings helps to socialise them and increases their chance of being rehomed.
Surprisingly, it’s often dogs dumped at the shelter from owners in the UK who are the hardest to rehabilitate.
Emma said: “It’s sad that we live in a disposable society and people buy dogs on a whim. They’re not cared for properly and develop anxiety and other problems.
“Lots of dogs have come here frightened and with behavioural issues but we’ve worked with them and they’ve gone on to be fantastic family pets.
“Each adopter is given a home check and the dog meets all the family to make sure they all get on. We consider people who work full time or who have children.
“Because we still have the daycare, we can give new owners as much support as possible to ensure the dog stays in their home forever.
“We have nearly 25,000 followers on Facebook and many are people who have adopted our dogs. Seeing updates of them living happy lives is so rewarding.”
Emma has already made so much progress © Matt Pover Photography
An artist's impression of her vision for the adventure playground
As well as creating the adventure playground, Emma’s dream is to install Big Brother style cameras to show followers how happy the dogs are and encourage more adoptions.
She said: “Everyone has been so generous and we’ve had some amazing donations like the Wendy house and we have a cabin attached to the house for some of the dogs to sleep in.
“We would love to have cameras showing what the dogs are doing and think this would be a lovely way for people to see animals they’re interested in adopting.
“It’s a huge vision but we’re determined to do it for the dogs.”
Emma and her team are always looking for foster homes to care for dogs before they’re adopted and homes for dogs in the Greater Manchester area. If you’re interested, visit www.dogs4rescue.co.uk
They’re crowdfunding for the adventure playground and if you’d like to donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/dogs4rescuesnewhome
If you found Emma's story inspiring, you might enjoy Can you help Liz from Beds for Bullies find a new home or Why Jade and Sam set up StreetVet to help homeless dogs.