Deerhound breeder wins award for her work in her breed’s health

Dr Sarah Helps, from Amersham, Buckinghamshire has been recognised at the International Canine Health Awards, one of the largest and most prestigious veterinary awards in the world, for her work in improving the health of man’s best friend.

Sarah, a retired doctor, was awarded Breed Health Coordinator of the Year Award for her dedication and commitment to improving the health of the Deerhound, a breed she has been involved with for over 40 years, using the kennel name of Beardswood. Her passion for the breed has seen her support veterinary research into dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in order to improve understanding, early diagnosis and prevention, and she even initiated a longitudinal study into the prevalence of DCM in UK Deerhounds in 2015.    

As part of this study, 99 Deerhounds were scanned and are being monitored throughout their lives, with the results of the study currently undergoing peer-review, in order to potentially form an official basis for future breed screening of Deerhounds. Early diagnosis means that treatment for heart disease can be started early, as well as enabling affected Deerhounds to be screened prior to breeding.

The awards, which are organised by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and underwritten by a major gift from Vernon and Shirley Hill of Metro Bank, highlight those individuals who go one step further to promote the health and wellbeing of dogs through their work in the world of veterinary science.

Whilst this year’s ceremony was unable to go ahead in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 winners have been awarded their respective prize money and invited to next year’s event to receive their commemorative plaques.

Sarah has owned Deerhounds since 1978 and took on the title of Breed Health Coordinator soon after the inception of the role, over twelve years ago. As part of her role, Sarah has instigated and developed a number of research studies and collaborations with veterinary specialists; for example, the Deerhound Club’s Mortality Survey to report on the causes of death and possible trends in the breed, between 2004-2014, and 2014-2024. Sarah personally collates, interprets and disseminates the results of the survey to help direct which health studies should become a focus to help Deerhounds. Throughout the past 15 years, members of the Deerhound Club have maintained high engagement, testament to Sarah’s standing and drive.

The money from the award will help to resource a geneticist and technician for further DNA development, as well as potentially subsidising further heart testing at future shows.

After receiving the award, Sarah said: “I am really excited to win this prestigious award. It is immensely satisfying after the years of hard work put in by me and my colleagues in the Deerhound Health Group, especially Emily Dutton, RCVS-recognised specialist in Cardiology who has been so helpful with our research.

“I very quickly fell in love with Deerhounds over 40 years ago because of their extraordinary grace and beauty, combined with great power and speed and their most generous loyal character. I feel particularly proud to have coordinated and assisted in the completion of the research project into heart disease affecting this wonderful breed, alongside Emily Dutton, and identifying the echocardiographic measurements in the Deerhound. The project has very much been a team effort and without the support of Deerhound owners, donations from the Deerhound Club and Bev Doyle, this heart study would never have been possible.”

The International Canine Health Awards were awarded in four categories: the International Award, with a prize of £40,000; the Lifetime Achievement Award, with a prize of £10,000; the Postgraduate Student Inspiration Award, with a prize of £10,000; and the Breed Health Coordinator Award, with a prize of £1,000. Nominations for the awards were judged by a distinguished international panel of influential veterinarians and scientific researchers.

Dr Andrew Higgins, Chairman of the ICHA panel and trustee of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which runs the awards, said: “Not only does Sarah demonstrate a real understanding of her much-loved breed, but her commitment to improving their health is truly commendable.

“The time and dedication that Sarah has contributed towards Deerhounds is inspiring and she is beyond deserving of this award.”  

Vernon Hill, founder and chairman emeritus of Metro Bank, and whose major gift underwrites the International Canine Health Awards, said: “Many congratulations to Sarah. Her work is an inspiration to other Breed Health Co-ordinators and she should feel so proud of her achievements.”

Read more information on the International Canine Health Awards.