Scottish couple's home furnishings for children business helps rescue 'invisible' dogs of Spain from barbaric torture

It’s all about art and animals for Belle Thallon-Leitch, an artist from East Lothian who has incorporated both her passions into her and her husband’s homeware business, Dwelling Bird.

The couple-run company produces elaborate furnishings for children’s bedrooms all over the world, supplying homes just down the road from them to houses in New Zealand, India and the US.

But Dwelling Bird has a little more to it than stunning cushions and flawless upholstery (Belle’s husband Darren was taught by Richard Webb, master upholsterer to Holyrood Palace, and who previously upholstered for Church of Scotland).

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The couple, who have two daughters, Tabby and Bella, donate some of their beautiful work each year to make money for helping dogs with a story that’s almost too unbearable to tell.

Belle and Darren top left and their two podencos Wall-E and Eva. The other pictures show some examples of the couple's handmade homeware pictures: supplied

In Belle’s latest prints, you’ll spot a drawing of a podenco, a breed of dog that is, in some parts of Spain, considered vermin and regularly killed in horrific circumstances.

The dogs are commonly used for hunting hares, but when no longer competitive, which is usually after two or three hunting seasons, it appears to be common practice for the animals to be pushed off cliffs or deliberately injured and abandoned en masse.

With their Scottish roots, the couple donate some of their work to Podencos In Need Scotland, a charity set up to help relieve the plight of these wretched animals and which hosts auctions to raise money for the dogs .

“My main focuses in life, apart from my family of course, is animals and art,” the 41-year-old said.

Belle with her podenco print known as 'Prince of Egypt' behind her, and more of her flamingo and woodland prints picture: supplied

"And to be able to use my business as a platform to raise awareness of these poor dogs means a lot to me.

“I heard about their traumatic lives through a member of Woman in the Arts Scotland who was asking artists to donate some of their work to go towards raising money for these beautiful animals.

“After handing over one of my prints I couldn’t look back, I had to know more about these tortured breeds and see where I could help.”

Belle’s research found that in some parts of Spain, the dogs are considered cursed and the more tortured they are, the better it is to “get rid of the evil spirit.”

Darren at work making one of Dwelling Bird's footstools. Darren was taught by Richard Webb who is one of the country's most respected upholsters picture: supplied

She also found galgos, a similar looking type of Spanish dog, suffer the same cruel fate and is soon to launch a collection featuring images of the breed known as the “invisible” and “forgotten” dogs of Spain.

“I just don’t understand how such barbaric things can happen to innocent animals.

“They have been such an inspiration for my work.”

Belle has gone as far as adopting three galgos herself. Two for her and her family – Eva and Wall-E (you can tell she’s a Disney fan) and one for her mum.

'Prince of Egypt' print. Unlike how they are treated now, podencos (drawn here) and galgos were treasured by Egyptians in ancient times picture: supplied

“My dad died when I was 16 so I wanted to get a companion for mum as she got a bit older and couldn’t think of anything better than a galgos, they make the most wonderful pets.

"When we first got Eva she was scared of her own shadow, but they warm up to you and are so loving.”

While the story behind the artist’s business could be an apologue on the Spanish dogs, Belle also takes inspiration from the woodland surrounding her home in East Lothian for her prints.

Living on Archerfield estate means her family rarely go without spotting wildlife each day.

“We are in an old farm house surrounded by countryside,” she said.

“And we have baby fawns, loads of deer, foxes, and horses just across the road.

Some of Belle and Darren's footstools sold through their business Dwelling Bird picture: supplied

“It’s such a pretty view so there’s no end to inspiration here.”

Some of her collections incorporate a woodland theme with foxes, hares and birds playing a central part in her drawings, making them perfect for children’s bedrooms.

"I like making prints for wallpaper and cushions that you could get lost in looking at as a child,” she added, sounding mesmerised at the thought.

"My work definitely has a child focus, linking to nostalgia and story telling.”

With her passion for animals it came as no surprise that Belle worked for SSPCA, Scotland’s largest animal charity, before setting up her business.

After her daughter Tabby was born, she decided to leave the office and focus on finding a way to make a living from home while bringing up her first child.

Yet, her fairy tale business didn’t come into fruition without struggle.

Belle had Tabby when the country was grappling with the impact of the 2008 recession, and, as with most families across the UK, finding work was tough.

“We were living near South Queensferry at the time of the financial crisis and received a knock at the door.

"It was from someone who told us we had to move because of the construction work following a compulsory purchase in the area.

"So shortly after I left my job, we lost our house as well. Many families had to move. But luckily we managed to find a place in East Lothian which is where we are now.”

At a time where Belle felt like she was clutching at straws she turned to her art.

“It wasn’t an easy time finding work, but after a bit of encouragement, I gave some prints to a friend up in Apple Cross who said I should print more of my art and sell it, and surprisingly sales went really well.

“Darren started making footstools and we then took our work to art fairs, one of the first ones being Art in the Park in Colinton. Then it was just one after another.

“Around 2013 we launched a Facebook page for Dwelling Bird and we started getting stocked by high-end stockists like Wolf and Badger. And requests for bespoke homeware from all over the world just kept coming.

“It all started for me when I felt like I had nothing.”

You will find Dwelling Birds prints, stools, lamps, wallpaper, cushions and a myriad of other items the couple have made together adorning homes all over the world.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

Eva and Wall-E snuggled up picture: supplied

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.