“Working with animals has helped my mental health – Helen’s story

Helen Goggin West Lancs and Southport branch

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On paper, Helen had a full life globetrotting with her husband, affording life’s luxurious thanks to a high-flying job in Sales. But underneath it all, Helen was trying to fill a void left by bereavement and illness. Her mental health was suffering and she desperately needed to change her priorities. This is Helen’s story in her own words.

My name is Helen Goggin and I am the owner of We Love Pets West Lancs and Southport. I live with my husband, Dan and our cat, Bean. My journey to starting my own business was a long one which I’m putting in writing for the first time, so please forgive me if it’s jumbled or leaves you with unanswered questions, but I will try to tell you my story.

When I was young, I had my whole life planned out in front of me. Finish school, go to university, meet a nice boy, get married and have babies. Family is so important to me, always has been, always will be. So, when I was presented with a significant hormone imbalance and an inactive ovary in my early twenties, that was my first experience of losing one’s sense of self. When all you ever really wanted was to be a mum and that’s potentially taken away from you, it can play tricks on your brain.

Ever the compartmentalist, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I convinced ourselves we didn’t really want kids anyway, filling our time with friends and exotic holidays and pursuing careers to support our travel interests. I set myself a new series of goals; an extensive travel bucket list, a job promotion, a salary increase. Things that were never on my original radar.

Jump forward a few years and I’ve reached all my new goals and by all accounts should be really proud of my achievements. On paper, Dan and I were enjoying the benefits of managerial careers; living a luxury lifestyle – taking safaris in South Africa, Tigers and Temples in India, snorkelling off the Cypriot coast and country-hopping across Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly blessed to have had those experiences, I would do them all again! But in November 2018, the unexpected and quick loss of my step-mum sent me spiralling. Jane was an exceptional woman, kind, caring within her community, a special companion for my dad, incredibly well-read and knowledgeable and the gap she left after her battle with Cancer broke me. Looking back at it now I think the fear was losing that family which I hold so close to my heart from the top down and not being able to fill it from the bottom-up. All of a sudden, all those dreams of being a mother came flooding back.

In the coming months, I was a mixture of broken grief and quiet hope and anticipation. Two very different emotions to be battling with at the same time. I met with a counselor weekly to help me deal with the emotions I was feeling and understand how to handle them and honestly, things felt like they were looking up but in August 2019 the dreaded big C hit again. But this time it came for me.

A routine smear highlighted positive for cancerous cells in my cervix. I can’t fault the service our NHS provided me. From the results coming back to my surgery, we are talking five days in total. The doctors warned me that the results of the procedure could lead to complications in carrying a child. Obviously this was a blow to the system. They did say that if I took care of myself and didn’t get any infections then I could heal well and the risk of multiple miscarriages would be less. Like a fool I returned straight to work and buried myself in it, trying to ignore that devil on my shoulder telling me that I didn’t deserve children, I didn’t deserve to be a mum. So, of course, I got an infection. And so I healed from that. Then I got a second infection. This information was my catalyst for change.

What was I doing? Throwing myself into a job and not caring about myself. I read a quote around the same time that said, “If you died tomorrow your job would be re-advertised by the end of the month, but your family would miss you forever.” This really resonated with me and after a conversation with my mum, I realised it was time to start again doing something I love and am passionate about.

I have always been an animal lover, it must be those maternal instincts! So I decided to quit my job in Sales and start a dog walking and pet care business. I purchased a franchise with We Love Pets and can honestly say it has been the best decision I could have made. It has helped me re-evaluate my priorities and I genuinely believe that working with animals has helped improve my physical and mental health since starting the business.

Mentalhealth.org.uk speak in length about the mental health benefits of pets. They did a study alongside Cats Protection involving 600 cat-owners and non-cat-owners, over half of whom said they were experiencing mental health problems. An astounding 87% of those owning a cat said they felt having a cat had a positive impact on their life and 76% said their cat helped them cope better with everyday life.

They also reference the benefits of owning a dog, from the calming effect of stroking a pet to the physical benefits of getting out every day and getting some exercise, walking a dog. It encourages socialising and it gives one a sense of purpose and value along with a feeling of achievement. These in addition, of course, to all the fresh air, getting your muscles moving and boosting that step count every day.

From my own experience, you cannot beat the love of a dog, even one who you don’t own but take out for a walk each day. You’re providing them with exercise, and bring fun with you every time you walk through the door. Balls to catch, trees to sniff, puddles to jump in and rewarding games to play, not to mention treats to eat for being a “good dog”.

So now I am enjoying a work-life balance doing something I love, with customers I love. I’m also home more to be with the husband I love and to keep up with the family I love. My attitude reflects in my job and I am getting really positive feedback from my pets’ owners and seeing my business growing speaks volumes. I’m super lucky really.


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