The Kennel Club has announced the five hero dogs who will compete in the public vote for the prestigious Friends for Life award at Crufts 2018. They are:
- A rescue Border Terrier who has completely changed his owner’s life by helping her deal with complex mental health illnesses
- A hearing dog who has become the ‘ears’ for his young owner and helped her reconnect with everything around her
- A search and rescue dog who has spent his life working in adverse conditions to help find missing persons, from murder enquiries to a helicopter crash
- An assistance dog who has become a lifeline for a lady with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and undertakes over 100 different tasks for his owner, from picking up the phone to loading and unloading the washing machine
- A Shih Tzu who taught himself how to be an assistance dog and has given unending support to his owner through serious illness and given her a new life to look forward to.
The annual Friends for Life competition at Crufts celebrates the unique relationship people have with their dogs, the important role man’s best friend plays throughout our lives and the support they give us in the face of adversity.
Judges from the Kennel Club, the UK’s largest dog welfare organisation, have selected five inspiring finalists to go forward for the public vote, with the winner being announced in the Genting Arena at the Birmingham NEC on the final day of Crufts, the world’s greatest dog show, on Sunday 11th March. These five dog heroes are just some of the dogs celebrated at the show for the ways that they enrich our lives.
The finalists for 2018 are:
Sir Jack Spratticus the Border Terrier and Vanessa Holbrow aged 47 from Burnham on Sea, Somerset
Chosen from the Breed Rescue category, Border Terrier, Jack was re-homed in 2012, aged 13 months. He has helped Vanessa live with enduring complex mental health issues. Vanessa’s was Jack’s fourth home but her first dog, and he has given her stability on profound levels and offered her an existence she never imagined. Both Jack and Vanessa have had to overcome immense challenges and have bonded through intense training (obedience, heelwork to music, rally and agility classes). It took a year before Jack could even fully take part in training due to his fear aggression, but now the transformation in him has meant that he is able to do lots of different activities with Vanessa.
Together they raise awareness and breakdown stigma attached to mental health issues. Jack has given Vanessa the motivation and confidence to speak on local radio, write articles for Rethink, and together they have raised thousands of pounds for mental health charities. Jack was accepted by the organisation Canine Generated Independence in August 2017 and is now nearing the end of his training to be an official assistance dog to Vanessa. In light of Jack’s neglectful start and the opinion that he was untrainable, this little dog has grown, not only into a stunning terrier but also an amazing assistance dog who keeps Vanessa going every day.
Waffle and Sarah Mohammadi from Hayes
Chosen from the Child’s Hero category are Sarah and Waffle. Waffle is Sarah’s hearing dog. Sarah is 14 years old and profoundly deaf. She was matched with Waffle by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People one week before Christmas in 2012. Waffle is now five, and since they were matched the change Waffle has brought to Sarah’s life is enormous. Waffle is Sarah’s best friend and always there for her.
Sarah says Waffle is her ears. Waffle wakes Sarah up with the alarm clock every morning as Sarah can’t hear it. For a child that could never sleep in her bedroom as she felt so alone, she can now do this, knowing Waffle is there. Sarah is more confident and can get out more knowing Waffle is with her, and where Sarah would not and could not make conversation to strangers before or even achieve eye contact, because of Waffle she now can. Waffle is Sarah’s hero, a complete life changer.
Taz the Collie and Gayle Wilde aged 39 from Lanarkshire
Taz is the senior search dog for Trossachs Search & Rescue and was chosen as the winner of the Extraordinary Life of a Working Dog category. Taz and his handler Gayle have been with the team for almost nine years and over that time they have been deployed to numerous searches together.
In November 2013, the team were deployed to the Clutha pub in Glasgow following the incident which saw a police helicopter crash land onto the pub roof. Taz and Gayle along with two other search teams were tasked with searching the building for casualties. Working in cramped, dark and dangerous conditions Taz and Gayle located every victim and advised the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service of their positions in order to facilitate extraction.
Taz has been deployed to several other notable searches including for murder victim Suzanne Pilley in Arrochar in 2010 and missing fisherman Paul Alliston in the Outer Hebrides in 2016, as well as many other various missing persons, house collapses, and an exploded electrical sub-station at Dunipace in 2013. Taz and Gayle are on call 365 days a year, and are volunteers receiving no pay for the work they do, nor any government funding. Every day they go above and beyond really demonstrating the invaluable work man’s best friend can do.
Clare Syvertsen and Griffin aged 29 from Northolt
Griffin and Clare were chosen from the Hero Assistance category. Clare was partnered with Canine Partner assistance dog Griffin four and a half years ago and they have been inseparable ever since.
Clare is a full-time wheelchair user as she was born with a very rare and complicated condition called Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder which affects her whole body. Clare’s joints easily dislocate and her skin is soft and stretchy which means she bruises and bleeds very easily. The condition also affects multiple organs. Before she got Griffin, Clare relied heavily on family and friends, having no independence and struggling to do simple things like getting out of bed on her own or even reaching for a can of drink which can cause her shoulder, wrist or fingers to dislocate. Since Griffin came into her life, everything has changed. He supports Clare all day, every day with tasks that Clare finds difficult or impossible to do. He can do over one hundred tasks including opening/closing doors, loading and unloading the
washing machine, help with dressing/undressing, picking up dropped items, getting the phone when it rings, helping Clare into bed, and he can even flush the toilet! Thanks to Griffin, Clare can now go out by herself and her family don't have to worry as much about her.
Griffin has given Clare so much more confidence and pride in herself, enabling her to have bigger dreams and goals. In 2015/16, Clare became seriously ill and could no longer eat solid food. She began to lose weight at an alarming rate, and at one point was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with GI failure and fitted with a feeding tube. All this time Griffin was close and wouldn't leave her side especially on the days where she couldn't even sit up; he would alert her when she was low in sugar and kept her safe. A true hero to Clare.
Buttons the Shih Tzu and Hannah Gates aged 19 from High Wycombe
Hannah and Buttons were chosen from the Man’s Best Friend category. Hannah has owned her Shih Tzu, Buttons since 2013. In the summer of 2014, Hannah was diagnosed with a near fatal case of ulcerative colitis, spending two weeks in a high dependency unit as a result. During the fortnight she was in hospital she had various procedures and scans, multiple blood transfusions, and episodes of seizures and complete unconsciousness.
When she was eventually discharged from hospital, she was welcomed home by the very enthusiastic Buttons. Throughout her recovery, Buttons did not leave her side. For the entire summer holidays she would dote on Hannah, making sure she was comfortable and comforting her at any time she needed her and during those few months they created and developed a bond that is now very poignant in their everyday life. A year after the illness, Hannah had become overweight due to an intense course of steroids, so she decided to get into sport on her doctor's recommendation. Not really a sporty person, she struggled to decide what to do and find any motivation, but with Buttons she discovered dog agility and hasn’t looked back since!
The two of them have now been enjoying agility for nearly three years and have just started competing and are both loving every second. Not only has agility given Hannah many amazing opportunities, it has also helped her gain physical and mental fitness too, helping her condition. Buttons, her regular pet dog, has stepped up to the mark and become a natural assistance dog that was never planned.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “Dogs play such a significant role in our lives. Every day there are dogs out there saving lives in war zones, giving confidence and independence to those with disabilities, and showing remarkable bravery and loyalty as pets.
“Friends for Life, the final of which is held on the world’s largest dog stage at Crufts, is an opportunity to celebrate these dogs that quietly go about changing people’s lives in their own unique and special way. We had some fantastic nominees this year from all over the UK so choosing just five finalists was incredibly tough. All of this year’s finalists are incredibly worthy winners, and all share a very special relationship with their pets. We would encourage people to vote for their favourite to show their support for these extraordinary dogs. Dogs are known as man’s best friend and our five finalists go to show exactly why that is.”
The winner of the Friends for Life competition will receive £5,000 from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust for the dog charity of the choice, with the other finalists receiving £1,000 for their chosen dog charity.
The public can now vote for their favourite finalist until midday on Sunday 11th March, by visiting http://www.crufts.org.uk/ffl
The winner will be revealed in the Genting Arena at Crufts on Sunday 11th March at 5.20pm.