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A Mom Took Her Dog For A Walk In Northern England Last Week. Her Partner Says She ‘vanished Into Thin Air’

London CNN  — 

On a cold January morning, a mother-of-two dropped her young daughters off at school before taking her springer spaniel for their usual walk by the river.

Mortgage broker Nicola Bulley greeted fellow dog walkers as she took a route along the River Wyre in Lancashire, northern England, police believe.

During the walk, she dialed into a work conference call, keeping her camera off and microphone muted. By 9.30 a.M., the Teams call had ended – but Bulley remained logged on.

A short while later, her dog Willow was found wandering alone. Her phone was recovered on a riverside bench. But Bulley had vanished.

The 45-year-old went missing in the village of St. Michael’s on Wyre on Friday, January 27. She has not been seen or heard from since then.

Stephanie Benyon, a friend of Bulley’s whose children attend the same school, told CNN that she is a “kind, loyal and thoughtful person who adores her two girls and family and friends.”

A search party launched by Lancashire Police involving specialist resources is now into its eighth day.

Officers say they do not believe her disappearance is suspicious and people “should not speculate or spread false rumors.” This has done little to assuage public concern, however, with some local women fearful of going out in the village where Bulley disappeared, British tabloid Daily Mirror reported.

It also comes at a time of heightened mistrust of police, after former London Metropolitan Police officer David Carrick recently admitting to a litany of sexual attacks on women, sparking calls for an inquiry into the UK’s largest police service.

Others out walking their dogs that morning were the last people to see Bulley before she vanished – and it seems there was nothing unusual about her manner.

According to Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley, Bulley was familiar with the area and would often do the same walk.

A friend of Bulley’s told the Mirror that she had since spoken to two dog walkers who had seen Bulley that day, saying that she had been “laughing and joking” with them as she passed by.

  • She was sighted by one dog walker in a field with Willow at around 8.50 a.M., police said. Willow was not on the lead.
  • At 8.53 a.M., Bulley sent an email to her boss.
  • She logged into the Teams work call at 9.01 a.M. “All of this was normal behavior for Nicola,” Superintendent Wiley told a press briefing on Friday afternoon.
  • Her last confirmed sighting was at 9.10 a.M., when another dog walker known to Bulley saw her walking with Willow on Upper Field.
  • Police believe her phone was on the bench near the riverbank at 9.20 a.M. After tracing telephony records.
  • The work call ended 10 minutes later, at 9.30 a.M.
  • A passerby discovered the phone at around 9.35 a.M. It was still connected to the conference call. Her brown spaniel was found running loose between the gate to the field and the bench. Lancashire Police confirmed to CNN that the dog was dry and did not appear to have entered the water.
  • Bulley’s partner of 12 years, Paul Ansell, rushed to the scene after receiving a call from his daughters’ school that the family dog had been found, Bulley’s friend told the Mirror. He quickly phoned the police.

    During Friday’s press briefing, Superintendent Riley said officers were “particularly interested” in the time between the phone being placed on the bench at 9.20 a.M. And the device being recovered 10 minutes later.

    “We only have a 10-minute window in which we cannot account for Nicola’s movements,” she said.

    Using underwater drones, divers have been scouring the full length of the River Wyre downstream. On the ground, the search for Bulley continues, with officers using specially trained police dogs.

    Amid growing speculation and local safety concerns, Superintendent Riley told the press conference that their “main working hypothesis” was that Bulley had fallen into the river.

    “The inquiry team has undertaken a number of dashcam, CCTV and ring doorbell footage. This has allowed us to eliminate any trace so far of Nicola having left the riverside, which is really important.

    “We believe that Nicola was in the riverside area and remained at the riverside area. We remain open to any inquiries that might lead us to question that, but at this time we understand that she was by the river.”

    Bulley’s family were left unsatisfied with the police’s theory, however. In a post on Facebook, her sister Louise Cunningham insisted the case was “far from over.”

    “Off the back of the latest Police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory. Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over.”

    Meanwhile, worried locals keen to aid in the search operation have been participating in organized walks.

    Benyon told CNN how the local community had come together to help find her. “We have arranged walks around the river from St Michaels up to Knott End for the community to follow. Today [Friday] we have been stood on the main road appealing for witnesses with banners and placards.

    “We are desperately trying to find Nikki to bring her home to her family and friends who all love her very much.”

    Superintendent Riley acknowledged there has been a high level of concern in the local community. “However, parts of the riverbank are treacherous, and we would ask that nobody puts themselves in danger and that the police and partner agencies’ efforts to find Nicola are not compromised,” she said.

    Bulley’s family have urged anyone who may have information to come forward.

    “Something has got to have been missed. Somebody most know something. People don’t just vanish into thin air,” her sister Louise Cunningham said in a recent interview with Sky News.

    “There has got to be somebody who knows something and all we are asking is, no matter how small or big, if there is anything you remember that doesn’t seen right, then please reach out to the police.”

    A statement released by Bulley’s family said her two daughters, aged six and nine, are “desperate” to have their mother back safely.

    Bulley’s partner, Ansell, described the situation as a “perpetual hell.”

    “We are living through this but it doesn’t feel real. All we can say is we need to find her. She’s got two little girls that need their mummy home,” he said, according to PA Media.

    “We’re never, ever going to lose hope, of course we’re not, but it is as though she has vanished into thin air. It’s just insane,” the UK news agency quoted him as saying.

    Bobi Is World’s Oldest Dog. Yours Can Live A Long, Happy Life, Too.

    Bobi, a Rafeiro do Alentejo, was born on his family’s farm in the village of Conqueiros, Portugal, on May 11, 1992. The Guinness Book of World Records says he's not only the oldest dog but the oldest to have ever lived. (Guinness World Records) Bobi, a Rafeiro do Alentejo, was born on his family’s farm in the village of Conqueiros, Portugal, on May 11, 1992. The Guinness Book of World Records says he's not only the oldest dog but the oldest to have ever lived. (Guinness World Records)

    Walk, eat, play, sleep. Repeat.

    That’s how Bobi, recently deemed the world’s oldest living dog by Guinness World Records, spent much of his 30 years on his family’s farm in the village of Conqueiros, Portugal.

    Unlike the owner of the Rafeiro do Alentejo, the rest of the world hasn’t had the chance to watch their furry friend age three decades with them.

    “That really is an unusual thing,” Erik Olstad, an assistant professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told The Washington Post. “Owners will always ask me, ‘How can I make my dog live the longest life that they can?’ That’s a loaded question because there are so many variants that go into life expectancy.”

    A lot of it is genetics. Life expectancy and predisposition for diseases vary by breed, Olstad said. But there are still things dog owners can do to give their pets the opportunity to live a long and happy life, vets told The Post.

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    “Dogs are very much like people,” said Natasha Olby, a veterinary professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “They need healthy diets, exercise, community, engagement and regular health care.”

    Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial, experts told The Post. Dog owners should strive to give them quality dog food and avoid overfeeding because, as they age, the extra weight will make it much harder to treat mobility conditions such as arthritis or ruptured ligaments.

    “If I see dogs entering senior years overweight, I can always bet money that we are going to have some serious mobility conversations moving on,” Olstad said.

    Preventive care is a must. Keep their vaccinations up to date, take them to the dentist and visit the vet once or twice a year for a regular checkup.

    If you’ve been fortunate enough to raise a senior dog, you should not conclude that certain behaviors or conditions are just ailments that come with age, said Nicole Ehrhart, director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging at Colorado State University.

    “One thing that we should not assume as a pet slows down is, ‘Well, it’s just getting old,’” Ehrhart said. If you are seeing your dog slowing down, that should be a warning flag for you to seek veterinary assessment.”

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    Physical and mental exercise are also key. Take your dog on regular walks and runs that stretch out as long as your dog’s breed and age allow.

    The five-mile run that works well for your 1-year-old border collie will not be the same workout that your bulldog with arthritis will require. In that case, experts said, you are better off with giving your dog 15-minute walks four times a day, for example. For mental stimulation, hide food and treats inside their toys.

    As much as one wants their dog to live a long life like Bobi — who Guinness says is the oldest ever recorded — experts highlighted that the focus should be on giving pets the most quality of life possible. Life expectancy is not a contract, Olstad told The Post.

    “My job as a vet is not to get your dog to live as long as possible if it compromises their quality of life,” Olstad said. “Their happiness is much more important to me than the longevity.”

    “Try to not focus on that life expectancy, and look at your dog as an individual,” he said. “I have some [clients] that say, ‘Hey, I heard that someone’s Great Dane lived to 15!’” (Great Danes live an average of eight to 10 years.) “That can be a really tough thing if your expectations aren’t managed.”

    Meet The DINKWADs: The TikTok Legion Making Everyone Jealous With Their Double Incomes, No Kids, And A Dog

  • There's a new American Dream: Becoming a DINKWAD — double income, no kids, with a dog.
  • DINKWADs on TikTok are exemplifying how the economy has changed people's aspirations.
  • DINKWADs told Insider that they like having a life of choice, and that raising children is costly.
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    Matt Benfield and Omar Ahmed are proud DINKWADs. 

    No, it's not an insult, just another acronym in a culture that loves to divide people into buckets. It stands for double income, no kids, with a dog. You can also be a DINK — double income, no kids — or a SINK, meaning single income, no kids.

    "The allure of the DINKWAD lifestyle is solely based on financial and personal freedom from any responsibility," Ahmed said. Instead, Benfield and Ahmed love to travel, and are both passionate about not having children. They have a beloved rescue mutt named Yvie instead.

    It's the latest economic and lifestyle trend to take over TikTok, with couples flaunting montages of their DINKWAD lives over an audio that goes: "I just learned the phrase DINK, which means double income, no kids, and I was like, that sounds pretty lit. And then I heard the phrase DINKWAD, which is double income, no kids, with a dog. Bro, sign me up."

    A scroll through the TikTok sound will yield numerous happy couples, out adventuring or shopping with their dog in tow. The comments are often effusive, expressing viewers' desire to join the ranks of the DINKWADs. 

    "GOALS. Humans kids? BLEGH. Dog? A THOUSAND TIMES YES," reads one comment on a TikTok video of Benfield, Ahmed, and Yvie dancing in celebration of being "a DINKWAD household forever."

    "Ideas spread rapidly on social media. There's an increasing acceptability of not having children; there's a decreasing stigma around not having children," Pamela Aronson, a professor of sociology and an affiliate of women's and gender studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, told Insider.

    On top of that, over 48 million American households own a dog, and 23 million households adopted a pet during the pandemic. That's more dogs joining households during a time when birth rates stayed low.

    It speaks to how economic and societal conditions are reshaping the new American Dream and aspirations of younger adults. Millennials are getting married later in life, with some delaying it for economic reasons, or not getting married at all. Homeownership is likely out of reach. Parenthood is costly, and birth rates are down. Instead, today's adults are crafting a new normal, one that replaces a white picket fence and kids with two incomes and a dog. 

    "Our generation, and Gen Z coming out of college, just don't have the money to support themselves and, like, much less a child," the millennial Benfield said. "They can barely afford rent. They can barely afford utilities, like grocery bills are through the roof. This idea of the DINKWAD is you have to just look out for yourself first before going for a kid or anything else."

    Nicole Valdez, a 37-year-old publishing publicity manager, grew up thinking she'd get married and have kids — or at least that's what she was told she was going to want someday. After she first moved out of her parents' house, she got a dog for companionship.

    "I always see continuing to have dogs in my future," she said.

    As she got older, and faced the economic realities, she never even bothered to think about kids — because she always felt it would never be financially feasible. When she met her current partner, she truthfully said she did not see herself wanting to have kids, although she still enjoys being around children. 

    "In my early twenties when people would talk about kids, and I would talk about the fact that financially I can barely support myself, how am I going to support a kid, people would always kind of be like, well, you find a way," she said. "I thought that was such a strange phrase to say, because you don't find a way — you have to have a real plan." 

    For years, she and her partner came up against stagnant wages, only recently seeing a significant income boost. With how hard it was to "even just live" and pay rent, kids didn't feel feasible; a house is just now potentially coming into view. 

    "Deciding not to have kids, and instead deciding to just focus on our interests and our desires and what we want out of life has just given us a little bit more freedom, essentially, to take advantage of the world now, versus having to wait until our kids are grown or until we retire — if we retire," she said.

    The cost of raising just one child has spiraled to $310,605, according to Brookings estimates, and that doesn't even encompass the potential cost of college. Some of that is driven by childcare that's unaffordable nearly everywhere in the US.

    On top of that, income growth has stagnated. At current growth rates, it would take over 100 years for a typical family to double its income, compared to a doubling every 23 years from 1943 to 1973. With income growth low, and the costs of parenthood high, the around $2,000 you shell out every year for a dog is a bargain — and won't chip away too much at the precarity of a double income.

    "There's a lot of inequalities in young adulthood today, and the pandemic actually worsened it," Aronson said. The concept of the DINKWAD, then, is something that's "financially aspirational" — with all of the economic blows that millennials and Gen Z have weathered, "those financial and economic insecurities impact what people even think is possible." Instead of a house and kids, it's just a financially stable and happy lifestyle.

    Jasmen Rogers is a 33-year-old consultant with a Portuguese water dog and is currently watching her sister's shih tzu mix. Being a DINKWAD has meant her and her fiance can take care of themselves in ways that make them "our best and most whole" — and also be able to take care of their dogs, homes, and even sometimes their families "in really beautiful and abundant ways."

    Jasmen Rogers and her fiance with Buzz (left) and Ziggy (right). Jasmen Rogers

    As a Black woman, both social and economic factors have influenced her decision not to have children. She's well aware that Black women are more likely to die in childbirth, and both her and her fiance — who's Puerto Rican — face racial and gender wage gaps.

    "When our powers combine, we have a household where our children will be disadvantaged just based on who they are, and in a world that is both freezing and melting at the same time," Rogers said. 

    Instead, being a DINKWAD has been all about freedom — the ability to travel spontaneously, for instance, or even just sleep in on the weekends. It means that they can put their money into causes and people that they care about.

    "It's a life of choice. The freedom and the power in being able to choose to remain childless, and to also have jobs that we both really enjoy that afford us a really great life," she said.

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