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‘Big strapping’ ex-soldier who lost leg in A14 crash helps grow Ipswich dog creche

PUBLISHED: 16:20 25 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:43 26 February 2020

Clare and Danny Holmes are celebrating two years of opening Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Clare and Danny Holmes are celebrating two years of opening Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

When former soldier Danny Holmes lost his leg after being dragged from a horrific lorry crash, moments before it went up in flames, he knew his life would never be the same again.

Danny Holmes was involved in a crash on the A14 in 2005. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDDanny Holmes was involved in a crash on the A14 in 2005. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

But today, having battled depression and learned how live a new life, the former Gulf War veteran and his wife Clare have a new purpose - turning the rapidly growing Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche into a major success.

Now 53, Mr Holmes "came out without a scratch on him" after fighting in conflicts across the world, such as the first Gulf War in 1991.

He was, in his wife's words, a "big strapping lad" who did physically demanding jobs such as being a bouncer at Chelsea football matches and working as a lorry driver after leaving the army around 1995.

Yet at about 5am on June 10 2005, with the Felixstowe couple preparing to get married, a simple journey down the A14 left him fighting for his life and needing all his military training to survive.

Clare Holmes has supported her husband through his difficulties - and grown the Dog Day Care Creche into a successful business. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDClare Holmes has supported her husband through his difficulties - and grown the Dog Day Care Creche into a successful business. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

'Like a scene out of a movie'

After a collision with another lorry on the westbound carriageway at Sproughton, his vehicle had turned over when two brave members of the public pulled him from the cab of the lorry as it caught fire.

Having pulled him through the window, they helped him over to the central reservation - moments before the heavy goods vehicle was completely engulfed in flames.

"It was like a scene out of a movie," said Mrs Holmes, who added that her husband "nearly died".

Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche has grown over the past two years. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDIpswich Dog Day Care Creche has grown over the past two years. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

"It was his army training that made him survive that day. Anyone in a vehicle on fire would panic - he never panicked but thankfully these two gentlemen pulled him out."

'The way you look at life changes'

Heavily burned in the crash, Mr Holmes spent three to four weeks in a coma at Ipswich Hospital before being transferred to the burns unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

He later had his right leg amputated above the knee, which was a major shock for someone who had been so used to a physically active life.

Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche has been named as a finalist for the Start Up Business of The Year category at the FSB Small Business Awards. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDIpswich Dog Day Care Creche has been named as a finalist for the Start Up Business of The Year category at the FSB Small Business Awards. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Mr Holmes said: "Whilst I was in hospital, I felt angry and annoyed.

"My life was going to change completely. I thought: 'How do people cope with losing a limb?'

"The way you look at life, it changes. The first couple of years were hard, because it was a different way of life.

"Even now I get frustrated with things I used to be able to do, like going up stepladders. It's the little things that you can't do."

Clare Holmes has run the business independently since 2019. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDClare Holmes has run the business independently since 2019. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Unable to exercise as frequently at first, Mr Holmes said he "piled on the weight" and went from 18stone to 33stone - although he has now come back down to his previous weight.

"I think it was hard for him," Mrs Holmes said.

"He had come out of the army with PTSD from the Gulf War in 1991.

"He was a big strapping lad - a bouncer on the doors at Chelsea football club and he did big, manly jobs.

"He was doing hands-on jobs until, all of a sudden, he was in a wheelchair.

"Your life changes instantly with the realisation that you're disabled. It affects your pride."

'We'll survive it as a couple'

Some days, the frustration and depression felt like it had become too much - but Mr and Mrs Holmes, who eventually married in New Zealand in 2007, got through it together.

"It was me kicking him, saying: 'You're still here, we'll survive it as a couple,'" Mrs Holmes said.

"It was hard, very hard. My thought at the time was just to get him through it, get through every single day and be as normal as we could be.

"What else do you do? The alternative doesn't bear thinking about."

Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche

Mrs Holmes managed the pressure of caring for her husband while holding down a full-time job in customer service.

Having been made redundant a few years ago, Mrs Holmes said: "I wanted to do something a bit more fulfilling."

The move into setting up her own dog day care business - first as part of the Canine Creche franchise in 2018, and then as an independent company a year later - was a "huge financial decision" for the couple.

However Mr Holmes, who originally retrained as a care worker, backed his wife 100% - saying: "It's time you did something for you."

From October last year, with Mrs Holmes increasingly busy due to the business' popularity, Mr Holmes joined part-time to assist his wife.

And today he says: "It's given me another look at life, working with animals. It's so rewarding.

"I'm now trying to give back to other people who looked after me."

Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche has even been named as a finalist for the Start Up Business of The Year category at the FSB Small Business Awards, which is being held in May.

"The service we provide here is something you can't get online," said Mrs Holmes. "It's a service people need.

"Because it's something we do as a husband and wife unit, we share the ups and we share the downs.

"It gives him a real purpose and we're both super proud."


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