A doting show dog owner who battles anxiety says she is being led on a journey of self-discovery by her pup, who has already been crowned a junior champion.
Donna Marie Hamill (24) rarely left her Belfast home before taking in pedigree standard poodle Zephyr just 18 months ago.
"I used to struggle to go to college just a few miles from my house, but now I go to shows in Dublin on my own and am starting to enjoy being around other people," she said.
"He's definitely brought me out of my shell."
The animal lover once dreamt of being a veterinary nurse, but her struggle with anxiety robbed her of the opportunity.
"I just didn't have the confidence to or self-belief that I could go to university," she said.
"But my granny says that getting Zephyr was the best thing I have ever done."
Ms Hamill, who was one of thousands of people to flock to the first ever Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo yesterday, said it was important for her to be there.
"He needs to learn to be around other big dogs and I need to learn to be around other people - so we are doing it together."
The dog show enthusiast, who grew up surrounded by show dogs, is following in the footsteps of her aunt.
However, she is now considering going a step further and starting a career as a professional dog groomer.
Zephyr provides the perfect opportunity for the aspiring pro to refine her skills, as the process takes seven hours.
"I know how to give him puppy pants which makes it look like he's wearing trousers," she said.
The creative stylist doesn't mind dedicating so much of her time to looking after her pooch, who already has his first title under his belt.
"He is very lucky to have already won a competition.
"I wanted a very intelligent dog that I could just brush and brush and brush.
"The only thing I didn't know was how stubborn he would be.
"I taught him to lie down in just five minutes - but he will only do it for a treat."
Children's author Claire Cullen (43) was introducing her beloved Shih Tsu to young children visiting the two-day event in Belfast's Titanic Exhibition Centre.
The mum-of-two from Newtownards was introduced to Fitzy Foo at exactly the right time.
"My mum died of a massive heart attack four years ago and then nine months later my dad died of a broken heart," she recalled. "My husband bought me a Shih Tzu. I wasn't a big dog person but I fell in love with her."
The bond deepened after a haircut revealed a peculiar heart-shaped patch on Fitzy Foo's side.
"She has brought me so much joy and healing - I couldn't have got through my grief without her. That made me think about how she could help others."
The writer created a story book centred on The Adventures Of Fitzy Foo and now goes into schools across Northern Ireland with the tiny dog, who is on a big mission.
"Dogs are so good for children and can be so therapeutic, especially for children who suffer from mental health issues," she said.
The innovator hopes to develop a soft sensory toy so that every child can have their very own Fitzy Foo. "I think she'd also be perfect for TV," she added.
Cara Jenvey and her partner Ethan Watton from Coleraine took the opportunity to let their dog Major mingle with dogs his own size.
They insist the 11-month-old Tibetan mastiff is a loveable giant.
"He's a big dote," Cara said. However, Ethan admitted he sometimes gets nervous when he arrives home to see 10 stone major wagging his tail.
"He was really playful when he was a tiny pup, now he's huge and still really playful," the care worker added.
Melissa O'Neil (39) and Ronan O'Neil (34) travelled from Moy with their beloved dog, who enjoyed a well earned pampering session.
The eight-year-old toy poodle has proved to be a bundle of joy but also a lifeline in times of heartache.
"Andre has been with us through everything, so he deserves a treat," Melissa said.
"I lost my father in 2013 and my mother in 2017, so he's turned out to be a bit of a therapy dog.
"Then last Christmas Eve we lost Ronan's mum, and honestly, I don't know what we would have done without him."