My amazing dog has helped to transform my life
Like a computer that becomes too hot and stops working, Helene Barton would suddenly be struck with frequent and unpredictable fainting episodes as a result of an eating disorder she has battled for years.
At her worst, Helene was fainting up to 25 times a day and even fell down stairs and broke bones during the incidents.
“I have suffered from an eating disorder most of my life and would sway between anorexia and bulimia.
“My coping mechanism was to either eat and be sick or not to eat.
“I had not known anything else as a coping mechanism so even when you are trying to get better, your body tells you to either ignore food or eat it.
“All my energy was taken up trying to ignore these thoughts and as a result my brain would go into meltdown and shut down.
“I was like a computer that gets too hot and over used and suddenly stops working and that’s when I would faint.
“At my worst, I simply could not function and barely left the house.
“I was scared about what could happen to me and my husband didn’t like to leave me alone and had to spend a lot of time helping me.
“There is one year of my life that I don’t even remember much about and I just stayed in the house while my husband and god-daughter’s parents looked after me.
“Without them, I could never have coped.”
Helene is a big dog lover and has always had pet dogs. When her previous dog passed away, she got Adel, a black Labrador cross border collie, now aged five.
However, initially, Helene found Adel’s behaviour very strange and thought he was just being “naughty” and they had a dog trainer and took him to puppy classes.
Helene recalls: “Adel was taking my socks off and getting at my trousers and trying to undress me.
“He would also get himself into a panic and try and get my attention.
“Adel was a bit of a nightmare to train and I couldn’t imagine him being anything other than a pet to me, despite me having experience of dog training myself.”
Helene’s dog trainer noticed a connection in Adel’s behaviour and realised he was playing up just before Helene passed out.
Helene and Bill approached assistance dog charity Dog AID and were accepted so formal training began with trainer Elaine.
It soon became apparent Adel had a real understanding and bond with his owner’s fainting episodes and was trying to alert her just before they happened.
Helene says: “Instead of training Adel, it was more about training me to recognise the signs of what he was trying to tell me.
“Adel was trying to tell me I was about to pass out but at first, I was not seeing the signs.
“I realised that when Adel was trying to take my socks off, he was attempting to tell me to sit down as he thought I was going to faint.
“Over a period of 18 months, I was taught to read Adel’s signs and he learnt specific tasks that would help me.
“Because Adel could not get at my socks all the time, he started putting his right paw on my right foot.
“Now, about three to five minutes before a fainting spell, Adel puts his right front paw on my right foot and presses with all his weight.
“This alerts me and gives me time to get myself to a safe location before I faint.
“Often, before or after fainting, I drop things which Adel duly picks up for me.
“If I fall or have a problem, I just have to say: ‘phone’ and he will get it for me.
“If really necessary, I say ‘help’ and he will fetch someone or press my panic alarm.
“However, if possible he will always stay by my side until I come around and am back on my feet.”
Helene says having Adel has completely transformed her life and she describes him as “her rock” who she could not do without.
He gave her the confidence to start her own dog grooming business within the premises of a friend’s doggy playcare centre.
As Helene’s confidence blossomed and the business grew, Helene moved to a location of her own and last year, she set up “Henna’s Happy Hounds” in Thornton, near Blackpool offering dog grooming accessories and treats.
She has now had the business a year and it is going from strength to strength and Helene was amazed to win a Wyre Valley Business Special Recognition Award.
Helene says: “I called the shop ‘Henna’s Happy Hounds’ as Henna was the nickname given to me by my brother when he was younger and he couldn’t say my name properly and it just stuck.
“Adel has completely changed my life for the better and I have gone from being a recluse to running my own business.
“Adel accompanies me to work every day and is with me all the time at home.
“Without Adel, I can’t imagine where I would be now, but I know it would be a dark place.
“When I was at my rock bottom, I did not really do anything.
“I was too scared to do anything just in case I passed out and people stared at me.
“But then I thought: ‘I can’t keep living like this.’
“With Adel by my side, I have confidence as I know he will give me a five minute warning before I faint so I can get myself, the other dogs and the tills into safety.
“If Adel can’t get to me, he ‘screams’ really loud and lets out a high pitched yelp.
“Since having Adel, on a really bad week, I faint about five times a week which is a dramatic difference to 25 times a day.”
As Adel is a fully qualified assistance dog, he can go with Helene further afield.
He recently travelled with Helene to her home country of Sweden and for the first time in six years, Helene was able to travel without fear and even venture into the Duty Free shop on her own.
She says: “For the first time in years, I didn’t have to be in a wheelchair or ask my husband to take me to places.
“I could actually go into the Duty Free shop alone and look at what I wanted.
“It sounds like something small, but to me it was a big thing.
“Once in Sweden, I was able to visit friends without my mum having to accompany me.
“The sense of freedom and independence Adel has given me is amazing.
“He is my best friend and even comes to the pub with me!
“My life has improved a lot thanks to Adel.
“I am now able to manage my eating disorder better and know when I need to ask for help.
“My husband can go to work knowing that I am safe and even when we are at home, we don’t have to be together all the time.
“The amount of help Dog AID, my trainer and my close friends and family have given me is incredible.
“Adel is amazing and has saved my life more than once.
“I can never repay him for everything he has done for me.
“I need him to be around forever.”