Plantation Paws and the cockerdor who helped heal a heart

Bathtime for Bobby

Bathtime for Bobby - Credit: Emily Rothery

Emma Gough has put her heart and soul into her dog grooming business, writes Emily Rothery

Emma, Chris and Mazie

Emma, Chris and Mazie - Credit: Emily Rothery

For 34-year-old Emma Gough, dog grooming is more than just a job; it has given her the motivation to overcome a major heart operation and she is clearly passionate about her newly created business and the cocktail of canine clients that she lovingly cares for.

Dogs of all breeds shapes and sizes greet me at the door - and these, bar one, just belong to the Gough family. 'I've always had dogs and can't imagine life without them, but it was the heart surgery that led me to a new career path,' says Emma.

When Emma visited her doctor in November 2017 with what she thought was a chest infection, she was found to have a heart murmur. Further investigation alarmingly revealed that Emma had a serious congenital condition and a bicuspid valve had caused aortic stenosis. 'The doctor at Blackpool hospital said that I was a medical marvel in that the condition hadn't been detected before, despite two pregnancies and living the busy life of a working mum.'

It was a difficult time as the family had to be screened for the condition. Fortunately, they were given the all clear, but Emma faced open heart surgery where the valve would be replaced with a biological valve. Emma's husband Chris picks up the story: 'There were complications and the operation that should have lasted four hours lasted eleven. It was stressful to say the least and at one point I lost the plot and went to get Emma's name tattooed on my leg!' Chris can laugh about it now knowing that the operation was a success and that Emma has made a remarkable recovery.

Emma grooming Bobby

Emma grooming Bobby - Credit: Emily Rothery

Emma's love of dogs shines through as we chat but Mazie, Emma's oldest dog, holds a special place in her heart. Mazie sits nearby keeping a watchful eye on us. 'Mazie is really the matriarch around here and during my recovery she was with me all the way. She was a great comfort to me and knowing that I needed extra TLC, she kept the other dogs away.' With uncanny empathy the seven-year-old cockerdor sensed her owner wasn't well and patiently stayed by Emma's side as she slowly built her strength and increased her daily walks.

It comes as no surprise to learn then that, after completing her sessions of cardiac rehabilitation at Westmorland General Hospital Emma decided to embark on a career that involved dogs. 'I did a lot of reading while I was recovering and decided that I would try the introductory course to dog grooming provided by Myrescough college which was held at the amazing Canine Health and Hydro near Gisburn'.

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Emma laughs as she recalls her first taste of dog groomimg: 'My first dog was a huge husky and it looked as if it was snowing. He howled all the way through, but it was beautiful. Then I was given a bulldog which is a completely different breed. I enjoyed every minute of it and came out bouncing. As soon as I could drive again, I signed up for the full course and now hold Level 2 and 3 City and Guilds'.

Beneath the smiles and happy persona there lies a strong resilience that surely has gone a long way in aiding the road to Emma's recovery and new career. Emma's open-heart surgery had taken place in July 2018 yet only months later she was committed to driving a round trip of 86 miles per day for three days of the week - a total of 38 days. By the end of February 2019, she had qualified and soon after that Plantation Paws was up and running.

'I couldn't have done it without friends and family. We built the cabin over winter. There were a few hitches, but we got there. I've had so much support throughout.'

Emma's cabin is situated in the family garden at Plantation Bridge which lies between Kendal and Windermere. She has a very clear ethos when it comes to her now thriving business. 'I wanted it to be professional but not clinical - more like a home from home for the dogs.

'The owners tell me they love to bring their dogs here as it is so relaxing. They can see everything that I do and my love for dogs. Their dogs are free to play in our field that lies at the back of the garden or jump in our pond should they wish. I will pick up dogs if necessary and take time with nervous dogs or dogs with health issues. It's all about working to suit each dog's needs and making sure they are happy and relaxed.'

On the morning of my visit it is Bobby's turn to be spruced up. Bobby, a small black poodle and regular client, snuggles into Emma while we talk before having his bath and grooming session. 'I never feel isolated. I love to be in my shed with the dogs and the radio on. I'm so lucky I get to spend my days with these gorgeous creatures. Never mind diamonds are a girl's best friend; for me it's dogs', laughs Emma.

'I can fit my work around the school run so it's perfect. Clients also tell me they like the family atmosphere when the children are playing at home. My children always want to know what's going on with the dogs. Eleanor, who is five, loves to pop in and help me when she can while Stanley, seven, enjoys coming with me when I walk the dogs. Chris also steps in to help me sometimes too.'

Emma also fosters dogs for Cretan Animal Protection which rescues dogs from Crete. She currently owns two lemon retrievers that have been rescued and has ambitions to set up a rescue centre in the future. But for now, Emma is delighted to see her business going from strength to strength. She currently has about 75 clients and would like to build it up to 100 this year.

She hopes that her story will be a reminder to others to have any suspected heart problems checked and that her journey will provide inspiration for others in a similar situation. 'I've worked really hard and I'm really proud of my little business. I'm a great believer that everything happens for a reason.' concludes Emma.

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