Born in Lanark, brought up in Stonehouse, forged in Kilmarnock, Alexis Fleming has found her home at Ringliggate, a smallholding between Kirkcudbright and Dundrennan.
She shares the Maggie Fleming Animal Sanctuary with a menagerie of rescued dogs, cats, pigs, hens, ducks and sheep.
The charity has become her life’s work, a testament to Alexis’ dedication to giving often terminally ill animals all the love and care she can in their final days.
The centre is supported entirely by donations, many from local people deeply moved by her dedication.
Alexis, 40, has survived much to achieve contentment in rural Kirkcudbrightshire, not least a devastating illness cured by an ancient natural remedy.
Always a free spirit, she “put on a back pack and took off” after graduating from Strathclyde University with a geography degree, saving up for her Pacific islands trip by working 100 hours a week at the Odeon Cinema in Kilmarnock for six months.
Not long after her return Alexis landed a dream job as campaign director for Animals Australia.
“I just emailed them and I reckon a bit of Scottish gallusness got me the job,” she laughs.
“The job was in Melbourne and I had the audacity to ask if it was okay to go travelling for three months on my way there!
“I was mugged in Times Square when this guy held a knife to me,” she recalls.
“Luckily I was carrying a false wallet with just a few notes in it so I gave him that.
“It wasn’t funny at the time but he was wearing one of those ‘I love New York’ t-shirts!”
On reaching New Zealand, Alexis mounted a remarkable – and definitely illegal – animal rescue.
“I was driving along in the campervan when I came across this new-born calf next to a dead cow in a field,” she says.
“I thought I can either leave the calf there to die or put it in the campervan, so that’s what I did.
“I was heading from South Island to North Island so I smuggled the calf over on the ferry.
“I found somebody willing to put us up in their kitchen overnight and I got some colostrum to bottle-feed the calf.
“If I go back to New Zealand I’ll probably be done for livestock rustling and barred from the country.”
At Animals Australia, Alex took aim at the live export of animals to China and the Middle East.
“It’s a massive industry and a really brutal trade,” she explains.
“As a minimum we were saying to government at least kill them here and then send them out.
“The mortality was terrible – it was 45C in the hold for the sheep, cows and feral goats they had crammed on board.
“If any animal went down and got off their feet they just got chucked overboard.
“It was unbearable for them in the ships which sometimes has 12 levels and 100,000 animals aboard.
“Many going to the Middle East were for ritual slaughter.
“There were massive losses, sometimes as much as half, on the journey over.
“It’s hard to know whether it was better for them to die before they got there.
“That was quite an eye opener for me.”
During her year in Oz Alexis volunteered every Friday at Edgar’s Mission, an animal sanctuary north of Melbourne.
“I would rake through all the bins for things like bashed water melons for the pigs to eat,” she laughs.
“Once I had been there it planted a seed in me and I could never have not lived around animals after that.”
Alexis’ and her then husband, on his insistence, returned to Scotland where she began a job at North Ayrshire Council.
A move to York followed but the relationship soured, the stress seriously aggravating her Crohn’s disease.
In the chronic auto-immune disorder, a potentially life-limiting inflammation of the digestive tract, the body progressively attacks its own tissues,
“Any emotional disturbance, like nerves or anxiety, had ramifications for my whole body,” explains Alexis.
“I was living in the suburbs feeling more and more ill, isolated and frustrated.
“Everything was coming apart at the seams and I started to get really sick.
“It was as if something had snapped – but I had no idea what was wrong with me.
“I was starting to get blockages in my gut and I could hardly walk for pain – inflammatory arthritis was attacking every part of my body.”
Alexis needed “handfuls of painkillers” just to get out of bed but only when her eye became painful was her illness spotted.
“The ophthalmologist diagnosed uveitis, an inflammation of the eyeball lining,” she recounts.
“It was like someone had shot a hot poker through my eye.
“I had been fobbed off by various specialists but she picked up that the inflammation could be Crohn’s.
“They did tests and my disease was diagnosed in October 2010 as moderate to severe.
“I had been in pain for six years.”
Industrial strength steroids brought only temporary relief before her husband’s job move took Alexis to Aviemore.
Only rescue dog Maggie - the characterful bull mastiff whose name would eventually grace her animal hospice at Kirkcudbright – kept her going.
“The marriage was in tatters,” Alexis admits.
“Maggie and me had become everything to each other.
“I had got her in York from a guy who told me he had ‘bought a bitch for breeding’.
“Ten of Maggie’s first litter of 12 had died.
“He had no use for her any more and his girlfriend was beating the dog up.
“I met him in a Co-op car park at night, handed him £100 and I took Maggie.
“She was ten months old and he must have bred her when she was just six months – you are not supposed to breed bull mastiffs until they are two.
“She was in a really bad way with mastitis and acne.
“And if I lifted my hand she would cower away in fear.”
With the marriage over, Alexis was becoming desperately ill but was determined to realise her dream of caring for animals full time.
She and Maggie moved to Ballindalloch on Spey-side where a big cottage garden gave her scope to care for a few animals in need.
Racked with unbearable pain from arthritis and internal lesions, Alexis, along with her family, sensed her life was draining away.
“I was so ill by that point,” she says.
“I had not been able to eat for months and was living on nutritional drinks every day.
“My intestines were full of holes – my body was effectively breaking down.
“My dad had to help me up and down the stairs and I didn’t even have the strength to pull the cord on the lawnmower.
“The feeling of being trapped inside yourself and incapacitated was worse than the pain.
“I suppose it was kind of unspoken but that was why my parents gave me a bit extra to move from Aviemore.
“Ballindalloch was the place I was going to die.”
Alexis, by then under the care of the Infammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) unit as Raigmore Hospital at Inverness, was contemplating whether life was worth living.
“I often said to myself that as soon as there’s no one around to miss me I’m out of here,” she says bluntly.
“I thought at least if taking my medicine for Crohn’s kills me that won’t be as bad as taking my own life.
“I did not want to put them through the hurt of knowing I had done that.
“Sometimes I just thought, ‘oh God, another day.’
Alexis set up the Pound for Poundies charity – to rescue, in the blackest of ironies, “death row” dogs.
Then her mum organised a trip to London as perhaps her final long distance outing.
Instead, it opened up a route to salvation.
“We went to a vegan fair and upstairs was this tiny stall,” recalls Alexis.
“My mum said ‘you need to speak to this woman – she has Crohn’s as well’.
“Sarah had life-threatening Crohn’s and had started making her own cannabis oil.
“She told me her story and was trying to raise awareness about it.
“I was on so much medication I felt I was living in a dream.
“Somehow I managed to write down a few words to take home.
“I spent all night researching how THC was the most active part of what became a magical plant for me.”
Back at Raigmore, an MRI scan before Alexis’ 34th birthday revealed “a horrible mass of inflamed stuff” had fallen into her hip socket.
“It was stage three of the disease and they could not cut it out,” says Alexis.
“Blood results showed I would not survive the surgery.”
The only approved treatment left was with “biologics”, derived from live organisms, to suppress the inflammation by disabling her immune system.
Alexis’ ethical opposition to using animals made her reluctant – and medicinal cannabis was not available through conventional channels.
“I was in excruciating pain – my whole body was saying please heal me,” she says.
“My IBD nurse was fantastic – he was worried for me but really supportive.
“He said whatever it is you are going to do, do it fast because you have not got long.
“He also told me not to worry and if I did go ahead with the cannabis oil they would still do blood tests and MRI scans.
“To be honest I think he was very interested to see what would happen,
“After all my years of medication, I think he felt it was the right decision for me.”
Alexis still had qualms about the oil – but soon had her mind made up for her.
“A few days later I was outside and started vomiting then collapsed.
“Everything just gave way and I thought this is what it’s like to be dying.
“I didn’t care any more so I went home and took a massive dose of oil.
“I collapsed into bed and did not care if I woke up again but I did – 16 hours later.
“The dog was like ‘hello?’ but I felt okay and did the same the next day.
“Then on the third day I was standing at the front door taking a sip of tea.
“Normally that’s like glass hitting my stomach.
“But after five minutes I thought ‘hang on, nothing hurts’.
“That precise moment was the first time in 15 years I had been without pain.
“I realised I could be on to something here.”
Alexis went back to Raigmore for a check-up – and more surprises.
“The nurse pressed my tummy and asked if it was sore there, or there.
“I said no. He was absolutely astounded – before if they pressed me it was
“He asked if I had been taking painkillers. I said no.
“He was surprised and delighted.”
Four months later Alexis went back for another MRI scan.
“When they had a look the rotten mass was completely gone,” she recalls.
“There was still a lot of damage but very little sign of active disease.
“The inflammation had stopped and some of the holes had scarred over.”
Alexis is not recommending that people living with chronic pain and a life-threatening condition should follow her example.
“I would never say this will work for everyone in a similar position,” she says.
“All I can do is put my own experience out there and invite people to keep an open mind.
“So often it’s all about money.
“Something natural that in my experience can make you healthy is not necessarily good for the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom line.
“Cannabis is not illegal because it doesn’t work – it’s illegal because it does.”
Maggie passed in October, 2015, but lived long enough to witness her soulmate’s recovery.
“She died four months after I started getting well,” says Alexis.
“She knew I had been through so much and saw me start to come alive again – it made her really happy.
“The Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice popped into my head and I knew then it was going to happen.
“I started building a website, set up a Facebook page and a logo.
“Within weeks I had terminally ill dogs, chickens, cockerels, piglets and sheep in every room – it was totally out of
“I had outgrown Ballindalloch – I had gone there to die – and looked all over Scotland to find a bigger place,”
Alexis was two weeks away from giving up when her dad saw an ad for four and a half acres and a dilapidated house at Ringliggate near Kirkcudbright.
“It was very damp with mushrooms growing out of the walls but as soon as I walked in I thought ‘this is it’,” she
“I got the keys on April 30, 2018, and I now look after 150 animals.
“Everyone who has donated money to the charity has built this place and it’s as much their place as it is mine.
“I have never known such a level of acceptance and help from the community as I have here.
“They respect that I am putting my all into this and I have never felt that before.
“For some reason it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be.
“I can’t imagine ever leaving here.”