The Best in Show will always take centre stage at Crufts but some ‘hero dogs’ will also be vying for the spotlight.
The world’s greatest dog show runs from March 5 to 8 and will feature 27,000 canines from across the globe.
Star attractions at the Kennel Club’s flagship event at the NEC in Birmingham will include the Utility and Toy group competitions and the Gundogs. There are also the Working and Pastoral categories and the Terrier and Hound groups.
But just before the ultimate prize is revealed, there may not be a dry eye in the house as the Friends for Life award will be announced.
These are dogs which have thrown a lifeline to people facing danger, enormous barriers and those at a low ebb.
The five-strong shortlist of dogs was unveiled by The Kennel Club and competition ambassador James Middleton in the run up to Crufts. The public will decide the winner.
Mr Middleton, brother of the Duchess of Cambridge, 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 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 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 first candidate is West Midlands Police dog Wolfie who was seriously injured along with his handler PC Louise McMullen following a police pursuit. The duo escaped from a burning vehicle but Wolfie suffered massive internal injuries. He was taught to walk again through rehabilitation and returned to work as a police dog. But sadly, Wolfie had to be removed from service because he was suffering from of PTSD. He is now a sofa dog and lives with Louise.
A cocker spaniel hearing dog who saved his deaf owner from fear and isolation has also made the shortlist. Teacher Graham Sage, 29, has had his life transformed by Jovi, a specially trained hearing dog that alerts him to important and life-saving sounds. Graham, a coach and player for the England Deaf Rugby Union squad, began to lose his hearing at around 15-years-old. Over the past five years has gone quickly from moderate loss to being severe to profound. Being deaf left Graham feeling unsafe at home. He also struggled with social interaction and felt lonely. But Jovi now helps Graham to lead a ‘normal’ life.
Syrian rescue dog Barrie and her owner Sean Laidlaw, a bomb disposal expert in The Army, are also among the contenders. Sean, who suffers from PTSD, rescued puppy Barrie from a collapsed school building in Syria. The pair developed a bond but lost contact while Sean was on leave in the UK. He fought hard to bring Barrie back home and the pair were reunited. Now Barrie lives with Sean and helps him deal with his PTSD and anxiety. The duo also take part in many dog events to raise awareness of how animals can help mental health.
A team of therapy dogs are also after your vote for Friends for Life. Golden retriever Leo, his fury friends and their handlers regularly visit the Southampton Children’s Hospital. The team, under the leadership of handler Lyndsey Uglow and Leo, provide animal assisted intervention throughout the hospital. As well as helping the children on the wards, the dogs are also a source of comfort for the siblings and families of the children in hospital. They provide distraction and help humanise an ‘alien’ hospital environment. The dogs also bring back welcome memories of home life.
The final place on the shortlist is occupied by Hayley Byrne-Ingle and her dog Ellie. The crossbreed dog has become a lifeline to Hayley who lost her 22-year-old sister through suicide five-years-ago.
A Kennel Club spokeswoman said: “Hayley, who was 17 at the time, was very young to deal with the trauma and shock of losing her sister in such an emotional way and didn’t know how to cope. If it wasn’t for Ellie picking her up every day Hayley isn’t sure she would be where she is today and feels she owes Ellie not only her mentality but also her life.”
People can vote for their Friends for Life favourite until noon on Sunday March 8. The winner will be revealed at Crufts by ambassador James Middleton at 5.20pm that afternoon.
The winner will receive £5,000 for the dog charity of their choice, while the other finalists will receive £1,000 for their chosen dog charity.
To see videos of the Friends for Life finalists and to submit your vote go to www.crufts.org.uk/ffl.
Crufts Fact file:
The NEC in Birmingham will host over 27,000 dogs from across the world for Crufts 2020 from March 5 to 8.
Dogs will compete in numerous disciplines and for the ultimate Best in Show prize.
The winner of the country’s favourite crossbreed competition, Scruffts, will be also chosen.
The show will be broadcast on Channel 4 and live streamed on the Crufts’ YouTube channel.
Crufts is organised by The Kennel Club. This year is the 129th year of the dog show.
Vanessa McAlpine, events executive at the Kennel Club, said: “Crufts brings together thousands of dogs and dog lovers from all around the world every year, celebrating the unique relationship humans have with dogs.
“We work hard to add new and fun elements to the programme each year while also keeping up the traditional and much-loved parts of the show. It is great to welcome our two new breeds this year and to offer our visitors the opportunity to meet and get to know 200 dog breeds in the Discover Dogs area and talk to the breed experts to find the best breed for them.”
For more information and tickets visit www.crufts.org.uk.