5 Minutes With: Ruff Life founder Julie Nickerson

August 19, 2011 

Life can be rough for a dog on Hilton Head Island. Yeah, there are dog-friendly beaches and plenty of fun wildlife to chase around. But hard times do come.

Julie Nickerson realized this after a near-death experience with her dog, Jack. An outpouring of community support saved her 6-month-old yellow Labrador retriever. So she decided to return the favor. She started Ruff Life clothing line and Ruff Life charities. Proceeds from her doggie and human products ranging from T-shirts to dog collars go toward the charitable arm, providing money to local shelters and the HAND organization that provides veterinary and medical care for pets and wildlife.

Nickerson explains how she lives the Ruff Life.

Question. Where did the idea for Ruff Life come from?

Answer. The idea came from my dog. I adopted a dog from a shelter in Bamberg. At about 6 months, you could see there was something wrong with the back end of him. You could see the whole hip turning sideways. He was very active and then he just stopped walking. He needed hip replacement surgery and it was going to cost $6,000. They needed the money up front in 48 hours. I was with a friend and she said she could find a way to raise the money. By God, she raised most of that money and saved my dog. I have never been in a community that could do something like this.

Q. What was it about that experience that prompted you to start Ruff Life?

A. Since then, I've seen so many other people in the same situation. People crying at the vet and maxing out their credit cards. People are going to great strides to save their animals. Dogs are more than just pets; they're part of a family. I designed a T-shirt with the idea to sell it and make money for shelters. Just a simple T-shirt. I didn't think people would buy it. But they did. Now I've moved on to a whole line of goods.

Q. How long have you had dogs?

A. Since I was a kid. I've always been a dog lover. But I didn't think it'd be my calling in life. It's sort of picked me. I never thought I'd be working with animals but it makes perfect sense. I've been at HarbourFest (at Shelter Cove) all summer and that's opened the doors. I hope to expand off the island, but I'm focused on building it here first.

Q. Where did the name come from?

A. I've always said my dog has the best rough life in the world. Now I see him bouncing on the beach, I think, "yeah, this is a rough life."

Q. Ah, to be a dog on Hilton Head.

A. Yeah, it's a good thing.

Q. How's Jack?

A. He's great. He'll be turning 4. He's very bowlegged. But Jack is Jack. When he's running down the beach, people can tell it's him from a distance.

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