Stumbling across an abandoned puppy in Antigua felt like fate for superyacht head chef Dee Momi. Joanne Bednall reports.
For someone who admits to being terrified of dogs while she was growing up, Dee Momi is more surprised than anyone that her life has been transformed by an abandoned puppy — rescued only because she was in the right place at the right time.
The time was spring 2021, and the place was the dreamy sunshine island of Antigua in the Caribbean.
In true ‘Below Deck’ reality TV fashion, Dee, 40, was working aboard a superyacht docked in English Harbour, when she decided to go for a walk on her day off.
The professional chef and nutritionist, who founded plant-powered supplement business MINT Wellbeing in 2017, chose
a route she had never followed before — and is thankful that she did. Because if she hadn’t, both her walk and life would have gone in a totally different direction.
“As I was walking along, I heard continuous barking,” recalled Dee, an animal lover who, despite being chased down the street by a Dobermann and German Shepherd when she was young, has since overcome her fear of dogs.
“Rumi was quite well camouflaged so I would never have found him had he not been making so much noise.”
Rumi on the beach
On closer inspection, Dee could see that the sandy coloured dog was skinny, covered in fleas, and not very old. He was tied to a branch by the side of the road in the shade, although the temperature was still pushing 30 degrees.
“Initially, I was wary and thought it might be a trap to entice tourists,” continued Dee, who took out her mobile phone to take photos and videos, just in case.
“There was no one around and no houses nearby — the dog had just been tied up and left.”
Without a second thought, Dee untied the terrified four-month-old cross-breed, gave him some water, and checked him over for any sign of injury.
“He was generally quite healthy and had a lot of energy, so I don’t think he had been there for very long,” said Dee, who noticed that the dog’s lead was the same colour as her company’s branding — mint green.
Despite not having any sort of plan, Dee went into auto-pilot and started walking the dog back to the boat.
Luckily, not only was the captain a dog lover, but the superyacht’s owner had dogs, so Dee was able to commandeer vital supplies.
“Our captain and crew absolutely loved Rumi from the moment he came on board,” explained Dee, who set the puppy up with a bed on deck for the next seven days.
Being fed on the boat.
“I got hold of some dog food and shampoo, and later on that evening, the crew helped me bathe Rumi and treat him with a natural flea spray.”
During their breaks, Dee and her colleagues played with the puppy and taught him games like ‘fetch’.
“I spent my entire evening with Rumi, taking him for walks and just hanging out with him,” continued Dee, who quickly established a routine by getting up at 5.30am to feed, exercise, and play with him before starting work at 7am.
While considering her options, Dee quizzed some people at a local beach bar about the island’s animal charities. But the main rescues turned out to be full or undergoing refurbishment.
IN GOOD HANDS
Already, Dee had established a bond with Rumi and felt very protective towards him. “I didn’t want him to get into the wrong hands and be abandoned again,” said Dee, who was advised to contact a kennels run by a knowledgeable dog person and groomer, where Rumi could socialise with other dogs and stay until his future was decided.
Thankfully, a space became available, and although Dee felt comfortable handing him over to the kennel owner, Lilian, she found it a heartbreaking experience.
“I knew he was in great hands, but I bawled my eyes out when I left him — he was such a beautiful pup and it was so hard to let him go like that,” said Dee, who promised to pay for Rumi’s keep until she could sort out a long-term solution.
Rumi spent the next six months at Lilian’s while Dee travelled back to the UK for annual leave before rejoining the boat in America and sailing to Majorca, Italy, back to Majorca, and the Netherlands. She then briefly returned to the UK, where she spent a lot of time mulling over Rumi’s future.
Dee felt very protective towards Rumi.
“Lilian sent me pictures and videos of him regularly — he really grew in those six months,” Dee continued.
“It was weird but I had spent the last couple of years thinking about adopting a dog — and Rumi was just the type, colour, and size I wanted.
“While in the UK, I went shopping one day in TK Maxx and found myself in the pet aisle. Before I knew it, I was on auto-pilot again, picking up and buying items for Rumi — before I’d even started researching flights or the process of bringing him over.”
With her mind made up, Dee checked out British Airways’ and the government’s websites, researched the necessary vaccinations and documentation, asked Lilian for advice, and sourced an air cargo company.
Meeting up with friends.
Finally, on Thursday, September 23, 2021, Rumi landed at Gatwick, and Dee was there to meet him.
“It was exciting and scary at the same time,” reflected Dee, who’d carefully researched doggy day-care centres, trainers and behaviourists near her Hampshire home.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it suddenly hit home that I was now a dog mum! Rumi was handed over to me at the airport, and then I was on my own.
He definitely remembered me and was so excited.”
Although Rumi slept for most of the two-hour journey to his new home, he refused to get out of the car for a comfort break at a service station en route. Nor did he want to leave Dee’s apartment later to go for a walk.
But the cross-breed, who DNA testing has revealed is mostly Beagle, Mastiff, and Akita, now loves life in the UK.
“He’s not bothered by the colder climate or traffic and is great with people and other dogs,” added Dee, who credits one-to-one sessions with her local dog trainer as invaluable for boosting her confidence and helping her overcome Rumi’s initial separation anxiety and pulling on the lead.
Enjoying a walk together back in England.
“He is super-smart and knows he’s in his forever home. The bond we have is beyond anything I’ve experienced before. Rumi knows what I’m thinking and feeling — being a dog mum is a million times better than I’d hoped.
“I believe meeting him was 100 per cent fate and he was meant to end up here. I’d spent seven seasons in Antigua, and it was the first time I’d walked in that direction. To find an abandoned dog with a lead the same colour as my company’s branding was too coincidental not to be destiny.”