When she is at home, Italian fashion designer Mara aka Maria Cheval is nothing but a proud and happy dog mom. She has taken in seven stray dogs so far and would adopt even more, if it wasn’t for her husband who at a certain point said No. Or “basta”, as they put it in Italian. But Mimmo is almost as “bad” as her when it comes to dogs: Instead of wedding presents the couple asked for donations to support animal rescue initiatives like “Korunera” and “AmaraOnlus” in Puglia. But we’ll let her tell her story herself
Ciao Mara, would you like to present yourself?
I’m Mara Cavallo, aka Maria Cheval. I’m about to turn 40, I live in Monopoli, Puglia, and I have been working in fashion for over 20 years, first as a model, then as a production manager for important brands, especially in the wedding industry. Now I’ve got my own atelier where I produce tailormade dresses for special occasions. I have created a collection of “dummies” that the customer can select and try on in my atelier. Any customizations, combinations and colors are possible, everything can be, nothing has to be. That’s my professional dream come true. Privately I’m nothing more and nothing less than a “mom” to seven fantastic big dogs!
Who are your dogs?
A fantastic mix and assortment of types! They are all adoptions from shelters, who I support as a volunteer. Birillo showed up at my house all alone and we welcomed him with open arms. Three years ago I met Bulla, a distrustful dog, only six months old, who arrived in the kennel because she had escaped from someone who must have really hurt her. Even today, after years of cuddles and love, he doesn’t like sudden movements and is very wary of people. Then came Biba, part of a litter brought to the kennel, victim of abandonment. I loved her right away, she was and still is the liveliest of the family. My husband wasn’t very keen on another adoption, but when we got to the kennel to pick her up, he immediately said: “Well, let’s take her home!”. In fact she is “Daddy’s little girl”, they have a relationship of their own. And then the fourth, fifth, sixth … it’s so easy that we got to seven! For me, for us, our dogs are life, happiness, family.
How do you “understand” each other?
We have our own language made of sounds, gestures and magic words. We understand each other instantly. “Let’s go” is the one they love most, because it means: Let’s go out and run around in the meadow. To have them come to me right away, I just say “snack” and they all arrive at full speed!
If they were people – who would they be?
If my dogs were people? Well, to me it feels they already are! They would definitely be our children, with the only difference that we consider them as eternal children to be looked after and protected. We love them madly because their presence has brought love and harmony into the family, as well as lots of laughter, lots of funny games – and lots of hair, always and everywhere. We wouldn’t be the same without them.
Do you have someone to leave them to when you’re gone for work or holiday? Seven dogs are quite a challenge..
It’s always a big drama to leave them because I feel terribly guilty. Fortunately they have a wonderful grandmother who takes care of them in every way, even going so far as to share a bed with some of them. They love their little holiday which helps us a lot.
Tell us about your family life.
The “children” are part of the family, they are by our side at all times of the day when we are at home. They can move everywhere independently, and they do follow us wherever we go. Luckily we also have a lot of outdoor space and we have created a huge garden for them to roam free. However, the only one who sleeps in bed with us sometimes is Biba, who looks and behaves like a Labrador. She is super sweet and communicates more than all the others. Actually she reminds me a lot of the dog in the movie “Marley and I”. Actually that’s another thing we love to share: Watching dog movies with our dogs by our side. I could start crying now, just thinking about it! The mere thought of having to say goodbye to one of them is the worst we can imagine.
Anything you’d like to share with others who aren’t as experienced as you are?
Well, choosing to share our life with dogs was one of the best choices we ever made. What you experience goes beyond love. If someone has the desire to get a dog I can only say “What are you waiting for? Happiness awaits you locked behind a tiny kennel gate. And if you open it, you’ll open the door to a new and wonderful life. Then, if you can, adopt and don’t buy. You won’t regret to help a soul that was locked away and deserves nothing but love.