Meet the very special hero dogs being recognised by Crufts

The finalists of the Crufts canine hero award, (left to right) Phoebe with owner Jazz Turner, Echo with owners Gemma Harris and her daughter Freya, search and rescue dog Vesper with her handler Niamh Darcy, and hearing dog Gordon with owner Elyana Kuhlemeier and her father Martjn, at a launch event for Crufts 2024 in Green Park, London on Tuesday February 20, 2024  (James Manning/PA Wire)

Perfect pooches that have gone above and beyond for their owners are being recognised at Crufts 2024.

The annual dog celebration will this year pay tribute to four of man’s best friends who have helped their humans in extraordinary ways.

Libby Clegg, the ambassador for The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award 2024, said: “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 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 four finalists go to show exactly why that is.”

Paralympian Libby Clegg will crown the winner of The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award on the final day of Crufts on Sunday March 10 who 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 March 10, by clicking here.

The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award finalists

Here are the four adorable finalists.

Phoebe and Jazz

Golden retriever Phoebe has been nominated for the Hero Support Dog award and is pictured below with her owner, Jazz.

Phoebe with owner Jazz (PA)
Phoebe with owner Jazz (PA)

Jazz Turner, 25, has thanked Phoebe for helping her to “live life to the full” after she was diagnosed with life-limiting progressive condition, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes her joints to dislocate, when she was just 18 years old. Jazz, a Team GB Para Sailor from Seaford, is with her assistance dog Phoebe at all hours.

Clever girl Phoebe helps in all types of ways – she alerts Jazz to her fainting episodes and seizures, and gives her her independence back, even joining Jazz on her sailing and paddle board adventures.

“I can do things I never would be able to without Phoebe,” said 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 and 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.”

Gordon and Elyana

Gordon is a hearing dog that is being celebrated for the help he gives to 12-year-old Elyana Kuhlemeier from East Sussex.

Elyana and Gordon (PA)
Elyana and Gordon (PA)

Elyana is profoundly deaf, which was not picked up until she was two years old, and despite genetic testing, doctors don’t know the cause.

Elyana also suffered from bullying when she was growing up and found making friends difficult, something that used to make her poorly. Her parents said she would tear her own hair out in clumps or would spend the day vomiting when everything got too much for her.

This was until the arrival of Gordon who they say has “transformed her life, her confidence, and her self-belief”.

Gordon provides reassurance during difficult night-time hours, and safety by alerting Elyana to sounds.

Silvie, Elyana’s mum, said: “Gordon has brought support, comfort, and reassurance not just to Elyana’s life but to our whole family. 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.”

Vesper and Niamh

Search and rescue pup, four-year-old Belgian Malinois, Vesper initially trained to be police dog but didn’t pass the test.

Niamh and Vesper (PA)
Niamh and Vesper (PA)

So when a dog handler from another emergency service saw her and recognised her potential, they helped each other.

Niamh Darcy, a dog handler from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, took a chance on Vesper in 2020 when she was 18 months old and the pair have gone from strength to strength.

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 and together the pair have even gone on searches for survivors of earthquakes in Morocco and Turkey.

“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.”

Echo and Freya

Australian shepherd dog Echo is Freya’s best friend.

Echo with Freya (PA)
Echo with Freya (PA)

The pair are inseparable and became that way after Freya and her family were given a devastating diagnosis. Eight-year-old Freya Harris from Lincolnshire was diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 cancer in 2021 and had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy straight away.

It was her Australian shepherd dog, Echo, who helped her to pull through the gruelling treatment. During Freya’s downtime the pair would sit together and watch Crufts and it soon became an ambition of Freya’s to appear with her dog on the show.

Gemma and Rikki, Freya's parents, thought that puppy Echo would help to encourage their daughter to go for walks after having to spend weeks at a time in hospital but did not realise how much of an impact it would have.

The pair both showed determination to make it to Crufts and they trained in dog showing, eventually qualifying for the 2023 competition, having just left hospital in the early hours of the morning after receiving a transfusion.

Gemma said: “Echo’s arrival opened up a whole new world for Freya. 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.”