Being gay left me feeling isolated and alone, yet exposed and vulnerable as a youth. This had a profound impact on my mental health as I grew up, causing me to suffer badly with depression and anxiety, leading to overwhelming feelings of loneliness that I carried with me into adulthood. This is somewhat of a trope in LGBTQ communities and this is why Pride is so important.

Pride is such a difficult, yet powerful thing that, in my experience, really challenges us to reconsider our boundaries and definitions. I'm not proud of how my parents and teachers handled my sexuality or my own early, confused mis-steps into gay life but I'm sure as hell proud of myself now; of who I am, what I stand for and of what I'm contributing to this world. All of which has unarguably emerged directly as a result of my experiences as a queer youth.

It was the persistent loneliness that drove me to get a dog. Whether I was amongst friends or in a relationship, it didn't matter - I couldn't shake this feeling of loneliness and when physically alone I'd indulge myriad, unhealthy behaviours to self-soothe in all the wrong ways. Getting my Golden Retriever, Sailor, changed everything as my loneliness went from a preoccupation to a manageable quality for acknowledgement and address. Sailor softened me as a person, teaching me a more loving vocabulary whilst instilling in me a sense of connection, attunement and companionship - something I don't think I ever really experienced as a kid. This enabled me to put aside my baggage and instead focus on exercising compassion, understanding and kindness towards both myself and others.

Sailor flowerboy

To me, Waggel is more than just a business I've started. It's a passion, a chance to share this life changing experience of dog ownership, and an opportunity to enhance the lives of other people and dog's in the same way Sailor and I experienced. A dog absolutely has the potential to bring out significant and meaningful positive change to anybody that has one in their life and likewise, each and every dog owner has the opportunity to give their dog the most beautiful and joyful life. There's plenty of studies documenting these sizeable positive changes a dog brings about to one's productivity and mental health, which is why I'm so excited to launch our Waggel Members Club this winter. It'll make it easier than ever for our pet owners to feel informed, heard and supported on their journey and we'll be partnering with some truly great brands to bring unique, rich and inspiring content and experiences to our members. It's the outcome of my passion and experiences, both as a dog owner and someone who has struggled with mental health, to create something which I believe would have really helped me, and which I hope will really help others.

I think it was this softer perspective on life that moved me to work with organisations such as Stonewall as a role model for LGBTQ youth and Racing Pride to help champion diversity in motorsport. It fills me with great enthusiasm for the next generations as I see what stark differences there are between schools today with their LGBTQ societies compared to back when I was a gay kid suffering through school, invisible and unheard.

Whilst Corona forces us all to sit and be with ourselves, to reflect and adapt, I'm proud to say that whilst physically more alone than ever in lockdown, I feel less so than ever. I think we can all take this unprecedented moment in our lives to reflect and better ourselves, to remind ourselves of who we are and who we want to be whilst learning a little from our relationships with our dogs. If we can do that, whilst we may not be able to physically march on the streets of Soho together this year, we can still stand together, LGBTQ or otherwise, proud, united and visible champions of compassion, love and acceptance. If we can do that we should all be very proud.

Do you have your own story to tell on how pets have helped your mental health? If so, we would love to hear it. Please email with the subject line 'How pets have helped me'.