“The first few times I went, I can’t describe to you what a massive thing it was for me to do, because I’m not one of those people that can just walk into places.” Laughing at the memory, she recalls “The first time I went, I hid around the corner for 5 minutes and then thought ‘No, you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it.’” And she did.
“It was a life-line for me too”
“Then the second time I went, I met one of the members, Mo. He picked up on my nervousness and he was really kind and funny. He just seems to have great empathy with people.” Over the last 18 months Sue’s gone from regular walker to committed volunteer, making two really good friends out of fellow volunteers and animal lovers Gabby and Pat. “Everyone has been so kind and supportive, especially since mum died earlier this year.”
Three years ago, she became the main carer for her mum and dad. “My life was becoming very, very reclusive. You tend to lose touch with a lot of people when you are looking after elderly people. When dad died, mum got dementia and then it all got a lot harder. “
It was around this time that Richard from Pets and Pals appeared where she works, armed with leaflets and posters promoting Pets and Pals. On impulse, she asked if she could come along and hasn’t looked back.
“…then they start talking to each other”
“It was a life-line for me too. It forced me to do things, because when you stop doing things, it becomes hard to do things. And, apart from going to work and looking after mum, I wasn’t doing anything really.”
Volunteering has created opportunities for Sue. “All these things had spin offs and before you know it you are back in control of your life again.”
Sue loves helping out at the Dog Shows and was instrumental in another off shoot of Pets and Pals –taking Nap her dog into residential accommodation to share the power of pets.
“My mum spent the last three months of her life in a care home. It was a lovely home, she was very happy there. Richard and I used to take the dogs in each week. All the residents would be sitting round in a lounge, usually in a circle, with the TV on and you take the dogs in. First, they start talking to you and fussing about the dogs and then they start talking to each other. It was an amazing experience, more so that they had started talking to each other.”
“It’s still a taboo subject”
Sue is clearly passionate about the difference animals can make to people’s lives and proud of what the group’s achieving. “It’s surprising how many people are suffering from mental health problems. I lost my husband to suicide and it’s still such a taboo subject.”
She tells me it can feel really lonely, but Pets and Pals changed all this for her. “All of a sudden, you are meeting like-minded people. You find yourself with people you don’t mind opening up to. We talk about so many different things.”
“People say ‘Aren’t you kind?’ And I think no, not really”
“You start off thinking you are going to do something worthwhile and help other people. But I think you are the one that gets the real bonus from it. I really do feel that. I have had such massive pluses from it, a bit like rescuing a dog. People say, ‘Aren’t you kind?’ and I think no, not really, I’m the winner here.”
Sue shares the magic of animals by posting funny and very cute animal pictures on the group’s Facebook Page. When she’s not at work, volunteering on walks and events, she can be found walking her little 17-year-old rescue dog, Nap, short for Napoleon (so named, because he’s a small, old man, living out his years in exile). Her favourite walking spots are around Sefton Park or Camp Hill in Walton.