Four remarkable dogs unveiled as finalists in Crufts Hero Awards

London launch. Credit The Kennel Club and Beat Media | Hero Dog Award | The Kennel Club
Hero Dog Award - London launch. Credit The Kennel Club and Beat Media

Award ambassador and Paralympian Libby Clegg opens public vote

The Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, and Paralympian Libby Clegg, have today (20 February) revealed the four finalists shortlisted for the prestigious Kennel Club Hero Dog Award, urging the public to vote for the dog they want to see crowned as the UK’s most heroic canine at Crufts 2024. They are:

  • A Golden Retriever who helps her 25-year-old owner and para-sailor to live her life to the full;
  • A hearing dog who supports his young owner through hearing loss and the anxiety that comes with it;
  • A search and rescue dog whose job it is to locate survivors of humanitarian accidents and disasters across the world;
  • And a four-legged best friend who has been by her young owners side through both the hardest times and the best times.

The annual Kennel Club Hero Dog Award, supported by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, celebrates the unique relationships people have with their dogs and the important role man’s best friend plays throughout our lives and in society.

Judges from The Kennel Club, the UK’s largest dog welfare organisation, selected the four inspiring finalists to go forward for the public vote, which opened today. The winner will be announced by the award’s ambassador, Libby Clegg, in the Resorts World Arena at the Birmingham NEC and on Channel 4 on Sunday 10 March, the final day of Crufts, the world’s greatest celebration of dogs. These four-legged heroes are just some of the dogs which will be celebrated at Crufts for the ways in which they enrich our lives.

The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award finalists for 2024 are:

Hero support dog – Phoebe, a Golden Retriever, and her owner, Jazz

Hero support dog – Phoebe, a Golden Retriever, and her owner, Jazz | Kennel Club Hero Dog Award

25-year-old Jazz Turner is a Team GB Para Sailor from Seaford, with her second in command, Golden Retriever Phoebe! Phoebe helps Jazz to live her life to the full, and together they help others too.
Jazz was diagnosed with a life-limiting progressive condition, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes her joints to dislocate, when she was 18. The condition also affects many other of her bodily systems and she has to be fed intravenously. But thanks to her assistance dog Phoebe, a five-year-old Golden Retriever – who is also a rescue dog – Jazz can go about her daily life, despite her disability. Phoebe alerts Jazz to her fainting episodes and seizures, and gives her independence back. They sail and even paddleboard together!
“I can do things I never would be able to without Phoebe,” says Jazz. “She helps me out with everyday tasks and means I don’t need my parents or a carers help to do day to day activities, letting me feel like a normal 25 year old.
“Phoebe is my lifeline, my best friend and she gives me an independence I wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Together, Jazz and Phoebe also volunteer at care homes, several local universities to help with stress, and with young people with learning difficulties.
“Phoebe doesn’t just help me,” adds Jazz. “No matter where I take her she seems to know what the person needs.”

Vote for Phoebe & Jazz here

Child’s champion – hearing dog Gordon, and his young owner, Elyana

Child’s champion – hearing dog Gordon, and his young owner, Elyana | Kennel Club Hero Dog Award

12-year-old Elyana Kuhlemeier, from East Sussex, was struggling until hearing dog Gordon gave her a lifeline. Elyana is profoundly deaf, which her parents first noticed when she was just two and a half years old, and despite genetic testing, the cause remains unknown.
Not only was Elyana experiencing hearing loss, but she also faced challenges with bullying and making friends. At her lowest points, Elyana would tear her own hair out in clumps, or would spend the day vomiting when everything got too much for her. Her parents thought the carefree moments of childhood were gone for good.
But the arrival of Gordon, Elyanaʼs hearing dog, transformed her life, her confidence, and her self-belief. Gordon provides reassurance during difficult nighttime hours, and safety by alerting Elyana to sounds. Gordon wakes Elyana up in the morning by pulling her duvet off, and gives her focus, routine, confidence and companionship. When she returns from school, Gordon is over the moon to see her.
“Gordon has brought support, comfort, and reassurance not just to Elyana’s life, but to our whole family,” says Silvie, Elyana’s mum. “Thanks to Gordon, she is positive and excited for the future, and doesn’t feel that her deafness will stop her from achieving what she wants to. Every single day we see the bond between him and Elyana grow stronger.”

Vote for Gordon & Elyana here

Extraordinary life of a working dog – Search & Rescue dog, Vesper, and her handler Niamh

Extraordinary life of a working dog – Search & Rescue dog, Vesper, and her handler Niamh | Kennel Club Hero Dog Award

Vesper, originally named Venom, a four-year-old Belgian Malinois, was deemed unsuitable to become a police dog. While she excelled in all other aspects, running at criminals for a cuddle is not the expectation of a police dog!
Niamh Darcy, a dog handler from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, took a chance on Vesper in 2020 when she was 18 months old. After a 48 hour trial under arduous selection conditions, Vesper performed flawlessly and their bond as a team was solid - and Vesper joined Niamh as her canine search partner. They went from strength to strength, achieving their qualified status as a search team; an asset available to be mobilised to searches of structural collapse across the UK. In 2023, Niamh and Vesper were part of the chosen UK International Search and Rescue Team and were deployed by the Government to aid in the rescue mission following the horrific earthquakes in both Turkey and Morocco, where they worked tirelessly to locate survivors.
Vesper quickly became an integral part of this brave and dedicated team, working around the clock, using her nose to locate survivors trapped under the rubble.
“Vesper is now an experienced and mature search dog who is leading the way within the field of search and rescue,” comments Niamh. “She’s a true hero and living proof that every dog can exceed their potential.”

Vote for Vesper & Niamh here

Best friends – Australian Shepherd, Echo, and her young owner, Freya

Best friends – Australian Shepherd, Echo, and her young owner, Freya | Kennel Club Hero Dog Award

Echo and Freya Harris, from Lincolnshire, have a unique bond. Devastatingly, 8-year-old Freya was diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 cancer in 2021 and had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with this gruelling treatment ongoing for over a year. Facing such adversity, pain and trauma, it was her Australian Shepherd dog and best friend, Echo, who helped her to pull through, and the pair incredibly made it to Crufts last year, overcoming all the odds and fulfilling Freya’s childhood dream.
Freya’s love of dogs started at an early age, when she would help her mum, Gemma, who used to work as a dog walker, and the two would always watch Crufts on TV together.
Gemma and Rikki, Freya's father, thought that puppy Echo would help to encourage their daughter to go for walks after having to spend weeks at a time in hospital. Surpassing all expectations, Freya didn’t just go for walks with Echo, she also took up the hobby of dog showing, following a dream she’d had since she was little.
Despite challenges with her health, Freya’s determination to make it to Crufts remained steadfast with the youngster qualifying for the 2023 competition with Echo, having just left hospital in the early hours of the morning after receiving a transfusion.
“Echo’s arrival opened up a whole new world for Freya,” comments Gemma. “She’s brought her so much confidence, she has really helped the family and they are best friends. We couldn’t be happier or more proud of everything Freya’s achieved, and Echo is always by her side.”

Vote for Echo & Freya here

Libby Clegg, the ambassador for The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award 2024, comments: “These special dogs are all heroes and are being recognised the difference they make – whether that’s providing unwavering love and companionship to their owner, making a difference for others in need, or bravely saving lives in a disaster zone.
“We would encourage people to vote for their favourite hero dog to show their support for these incredible four-legged friends and to celebrate their bravery, loyalty and friendship.
“Dogs are known as man’s best friend and our five finalists go to show exactly why that is.”
The winner of The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award, crowned by Libby on the final day of Crufts (10 March), will receive £5,000 from The Kennel Club Charitable Trust for the dog charity of their choice, with the other finalists receiving a £1,000 donation to their chosen canine charity.
The public can now watch each of the finalist’s stories in specially-made videos and vote for their Hero Dog 2024, until 4pm on Sunday 10 March, by visiting Crufts website.

Balto - our Rescue Dog Hero 2024

Sandra and Balto. Credit The Kennel Club and Eleanor Riley | Kennel Club Hero Dog Award

This year, the award is also honouring Balto, a rescue Husky, as its ‘Rescue Dog Hero 2024’. Balto sadly passed away before the award concluded, but he will be specially recognised at Crufts for his heroic deeds, which included visiting care homes, hospitals, schools and mental health units as a therapy dog, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of officers and civilian staff at Humberside Police as a Wellbeing Dog, and fundraising for charities including Husky rescue groups, Refuge4Pets and charities that help those who struggle to afford food and vet care for their dogs, alongside his owner, Sandra Heathcoate, a retired police officer from Derbyshire who turned his life around after he was found as a stray.
“Balto was a very special dog, who made a difference to so many, and much deserves this special recognition as our Rescue Dog Hero 2024,” added Bill Lambert, spokesperson for Crufts. “Even though he had a difficult start to life, he went from underdog to hero dog, alongside his owner, Sandra, and together they changed lives of humans and dogs alike.”