A Sheffield woman who gave up her 20-a-day cigarette habit to rescue a dying dog has told how ditching fags has helped turn her life around.
Cheryl Hague, 41, has revealed how kicking the habit helped save not only the dog's life - but her own - and she is now a dedicated marathon runner and fitness fanatic.
She has spoken out as Stoptober, the month long campaign encouraging people to give up smoking gets under way - and is hoping her story will inspire others to do the same.
Said Cheryl, who lives in Handsworth: "I was a serious smoker but quit the habit to help save the life of a dying dog I met on holiday - that was 20 years ago and definitely one of the best decisions I ever made."
Her journey to stop smoking came quite by chance when Cheryl and her now husband went on a cheap holiday to Corfu as they were saving for a deposit on a house.
She said: "But it became a very expensive holiday when we ended up paying for our new best friend to be flown home and then put in quarantine for six months until he could finely live the life he deserved.
"Our journey really began within hours of arriving at the holiday resort - we realised there was quite a problem with stray dogs and cats which were left to roam the streets. On our first day one such dog – a scruffy-looking and very skinny Springer Spaniel-cross – came up to me wagging his tail.
"I remember saying “hello” to him and carried on walking to a restaurant, but when we got to our table we realised the dog had followed us. He sat outside, then he scampered after us when we left the restaurant and walked to a bar.
"We didn’t want him following us over a busy road as it appeared he was blind in one eye and we were concerned we might hit by a car, so we made off from the bar through a back exit.
"Minutes later we heard the tip-tapping of paws behind us.
"I thought he belonged to someone but was left to roam the streets so I ushered him away as we got to our apartment.
"The next morning when we got up and went outside our new-found friend was laying outside the door.
"A couple in the neighbouring property said they tried to coax him to their apartment for some water – but he refused to budge. I know now where the phrase ‘dogged determination’ comes from.
"At this point I gave him a bit of fuss and he was over-the-moon but I realised he was in pretty bad shape. He was very underweight, his injured eye was infected and he seemed to have a broken tail.
"Over the next few hours he remained faithfully by our side, but as we walked around the resort we noticed meat had been left out in strategic positions with hungry cats and dogs going up to it but not eating anything.
"Our scruffy pal was the same, the only thing he seemed to eat was olives as they dropped from the trees. It was only when we met another English lady, who lived near the resort and by pure chance also helped at a charity to rescue the animals, that we understood why.
"The locals were lacing the tempting treats with poison to kill off the cats and dogs and she said it was a long and agonising death. She gave me advice on getting some antibiotics from the chemist to help treat the dog.
"At first I think he was wary of having a sausage he saw me lace with the medicine – but he did trust us and started eating. We thought it would be good to help him get better then he would have a better chance of survival when we left.
"As the days went by instead of leaving to sleep him outside the door he came and stayed in our apartment. He was really good to say he was used to living on the street.
"But as our holiday came towards its end we had bonded to this little guy and after hearing how the police shoot the dogs that survive the poison at the end of the tourist season, which was just a weeks away, we decided to look at how we could take him home."
So what’s all this got to do with giving up smoking?
"Well the only way we could afford to pay for what was then six months of quarantine was to give up cigarettes. In fact the combined amount we spent on fags a month - a few hundred pounds back then - was coincidentally the same amount the quarantine kennels would cost," added Cheryl, a journalist who works in Derby.
"We had to use our leftover holiday cash to pay for him to be kennelled at a vets in Corfu and treated for various medical problems while we went home and arranged flights and quarantine kennels.
"I had my last cigarette in Corfu – and returned home craving nicotine.
"I am not going to lie, giving up was hard, but every time I thought about giving in I thought about our four-legged friend who was in bad health and frightened in a little kennel.
"Having such an important reason to give break my addiction gave me the strength I needed to carry on.
"The cravings got less and less but they were still there. Sometimes I would get a whiff of a cigarette and would be dying for a drag. It took about two years for this to disappear and I ended up hating the smell of cigs.
"It was all so worth it. Our dog, who we named Vinnie, went crazy when we picked him up from the quarantine kennels and took him to his first proper home. I always remember he seemed to know that morning it was his turn to come out the cell and he went crazy when he could walk on grass for the first time in about eight months.
"He was a brilliant dog and bonded with both the children as they came along.
"Also walking him improved my fitness no end. It helped with the inevitable weight gain from quitting and as my fitness improved I started leading a much more healthier lifestyle.
"So much so I am now a member of Handsworth Roadhogs and I now run marathons -I probably couldn’t run to the end of the street when I was a smoker!
"So I was particularly proud to get a marathon time which qualified me to run the London Marathon as a ‘good for age’ competitor. That really showed just how far I had come and have never looked back.
"About a year after rescuing Vinnie we even won an award from Quit, the charity to help people give up smoking. We were named Quitters Of The Year in 2000 and were presented with a trophy and with a two week trip-of-lifetime to Barbados at a glitzy ceremony in London. Ironically, it was the same amount of money we had spent on saving Vinnie.
"Sadly we lost our little hero a couple of years ago. He was 15 but had a fabulous life and after getting over our loss Vinnie led the way for us rescuing a new guy who was in desperate need of a home. We took on a lovely Labrador-Staffy cross called Bruno from a charity who rescued him from council kennels just hours before he was to be put to sleep after he was found roaming the streets.
"It is funny even now years later people remember our dog rescue story and say to me: “I think it’s great how you saved that dog’s life”. To which I always reply: “To be honest he saved ours”.
"So to those thinking of giving up for Stoptober I would say – go for it you CAN do it if you really want to. Maybe you just need a reason like me? Think of your own circumstances maybe you can do it for a child or grandchild so you can spend more time playing with them without getting out of breath or maybe you just need to do it for you and your own health. Whatever reason you do it for if you do succeed I promise you this – you will never regret it."