‘Dogs can transform your mental health’: Hampstead woman behind ‘world first’ London Dog Week explains her inspiration

Aneka Johnson (left) with fellow London Dog Week founder Lois Mallett-Walker. Picture: Juliet Franci

Aneka Johnson (left) with fellow London Dog Week founder Lois Mallett-Walker. Picture: Juliet Francis - Credit: Archant

Hampstead businesswoman Aneka Johnson has launched what she claims is the “world’s first” week-long festival dedicated to dogs.

The idea, Aneka told this newspaper, is to raise awareness of the way dogs can help our mental health, and she is drawing on how getting her own bulldog Chubs helped her through a period of poor health – mental and physical – as inspiration for a new London Dog Week.

Aneka, who was diagnosed with fibroids and then acute anaemia in 2016, said owning her dog had been transformative. She said: “I didn’t realise until I was in that position of being ill, how he was going to change my life. He’s not only changed my life, he’s saved it.

“Dogs are people magnets, it’s more than just having a pet.”

When Aneka’s health began to improve, she started thinking how to use her background in events management to use dogs for the benefit of stressed Londoners, and she came up with the idea of ‘Doggy Cafes’ where she would take dogs into workplaces and hold ‘cuddle clubs’.

She said being involved in the Instagram dog community helped her get to know Lois Mallett-Walker – who had begun an agency for pets on social media.

They met, and instantly connected, which and between them they came up with the idea for London Dog Week.

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Aneka explained: “We were just on the same page straight away.”

London Dog Week was born in Hampstead, too, Aneka said.

“We met for coffee and had the idea for the week in Hampstead High Street, in Le Pain Quotidien! That’s where it started.

“Hampstead is wonderful, probably one of the most dog-friendly places there is. It’s so welcoming.

“We take it very seriously, because there are very serious reasons people don’t have children and often people’s dogs end up being as close to children as they have, and we really want to celebrate that.

“One of our goals is to really raise awarness of mental health and how dogs can transform lives.”

London Dog Week takes place from March 24 to March 31, with events including walks, meet-ups and wellness days taking place across London. See londondogweek.com for details.