A dad-of-three left with empty nest syndrome after his adult daughters all left home- has helped himself get over it by rescuing dogs which were destined to be put down.
Paul Viner, 55, fell into a deep depression after all his daughters grew into adults and eventually left the family home.
He said he became overwhelmed by a desperate need to feel wanted again and suffered a mid-life crisis.
However he found salvation when he stumbled across a charity that rescued stray dogs from abroad which were due to be put down in killing stations.
Killing stations take in stray dogs off the streets and euthanise those who are not rescued.
Now Paul has rescued three dogs; Shane, Sheba and Sky who had all suffered brutal cruelty at the hands of humans.
Paul says saving them has helped improve his mental health after his daughters Kealy, 33, Gemma, 31, and Leah, 28, flew the nest.
Kealy, an occupational therapist, got married and left home and when the family moved out, their second eldest Leah, who works for an American travel company, moved in with Kealy.
Their youngest daughter Leah, who works for an air conditioning company, moved out two years ago.
Paul from Old Harlow, Essex, said: “I was really unhappy. My daughters had left and I developed empty nest syndrome. I didn’t really know who I was.
“A lot of men go through a mid-life crisis so I knew friends who were buying Harley Davidsons and sports cars.
“I couldn’t do any of that but I was looking to feel needed again.”
Wife Toni added: “I did think there was a gap in our lives when our daughters moved out. I thought maybe we could get a dog because it would be nice to do things together.
To fill the void left behind by his daughters, Paul and his teaching assistant wife Toni, 55, decided to get a dog- and that’s when they stumbled across Belgian shepherd Shane in 2014.
Hertfordshire-based charity Mutts in Distress take in local unwanted dogs and also those pups abroad who need a home.
One of those unfortunate souls was Shane who had a “horrible life.”
The Street Trading Enforcement Officer explained: “I stumbled across a website for rescue dogs and I was shocked at what I read, the horror these dogs go through.
“I refocused and took on our first rescue Shane. He had a horrible life and hated the world.
“Shane had been in and out of rescues through no fault of his own he had suffered a horrible beating and was dumped in a ditch full of slurry.
“He fell in love with us the moment we met- and so did we. This dog that growled at people just licked us and wanted to go on walks.”
Shane sadly passed away in early 2015 after troubles with his vertebrae left him paralysed.
Paul said: “We said we could never put ourselves through that again but we both said it was selfish to put our emotions before giving these dogs that needed homes a home.”
Just eight days later, Paul heard about another dog in need, Sheba, a severely disabled Bulgarian street dog who was scared of other mutts.
Paul said: “Sheba was severely disabled and extremely small for her breed, she is a German Shepherd and weighs only 23kgs.
“She still needed months of therapy when we got her and in total she had five operations and went through months of recuperation to try and straighten her legs.
“From day one she was an extremely loving little dog but living on the mean streets of Sofia, Bulgaria had left her terrified of any other dog she encountered.
“To this day she warns other dogs away from her by barking at them, despite our best
efforts with one of the UK’s top dog trainers to alleviate her fears.”
But when Paul found out about another dog in need called Sky he knew he would be the one to help Sheba come out of her shell.
Sky was found along with his brother Sun tied to the gates of a killing station in Spain awaiting their horrific fate until a woman from a local charity rescued them.
Paul continued: “These killing stations appall me, the level of cruelty is horrific. But where there is evil there is good too.”
Sky was brought to the UK and after four weeks of intense socialisation, he had moved in with his new family in January 2019.
Paul has since said all three dogs have completely transformed his life and his mental health helping him feel needed again.
And to help other dogs in need he now regularly volunteers at Mutts in Distress.
He said: “I personally feel that I have a very strong spiritual and emotional bond with my dogs.
“I have to admit that when I am out walking Sheba and Sky across the countryside fields near to where we live I openly tell them my troubles, they walk beside me, looking up at me as I rant on and on about how bad life is treating me.
“We’ll stop and sit together, they snuggle into me, I’ll give them each a cuddle, then believe me, life suddenly feels better.
“I look at them and think about the traumas they have endured, and how they have put their suffering behind them, I take inspiration from them, and slowly the day’s problems fade away.
“I can talk to them about issues I would be far too embarrassed to talk to a human about, dogs are non-judgemental.
“I know that they don’t understand the words that I say to them, but they instinctively
pick up on my emotions.”
Toni added: “They just make you feel a thousand times better. They are our babies and are so protective of us.”
Paul has since written a book called Shane, Sheba and Sky in a bid to help others who are currently experiencing their own mental health struggles.
He added: “I decided that it was time for me to be openly honest, and if by chance my attempts at writing a book would ever be published, just maybe other men would realise they are not alone.
“My wife and mother were both shocked when they read my book, and tried to question what I had been through.
“I told them it was in the past, I was over it and needed to concentrate on the positives,
not the negatives.
“They both told me that they were proud of me.”
Toni said: “I’ve known him all these years and he never said anything about what he was going through so when I read the book I was really shocked.
“I just thought he was missing the girls I didn’t realise how low he felt.
“I asked him why he didn’t tell me and he said he was the strong one the one who was supposed to keep our family together.
“Mental health in men is so different now to what it was six years ago.”