Plenty of us have taken in a dog during lockdown - the 'pandemic pooch' is a recognised trend, with rescues, pedigrees and pups all finding new families.
But not many began their relationship with their new best friend by saving his life.
Lexie Elliott, 26, a PR firm owner from Bournemouth, was driving at night close to Christmas 2018. She stopped in a lay-by to take a phone call from her boyfriend when everything changed.
"It was dark and I had my headlights on,” she says. “This blue van pulled up alongside me on a dual carriageway, obviously noting that I was there.
Watch: How to prepare your pets for your return to the office
“The next thing I knew, this small fluffy thing was literally thrown out of the van in front of me. “I thought it was a rabbit and, I said I’d call my boyfriend back, got out of the car and found a little cockapoo puppy – Wilf.”
Shocked, Lexie, who was then living in Brighton with her partner, called the police. They gave her the number for The Dogs’ Trust, who booked them in at a local vet’s the next day, where Wilf, aged just 10 weeks, was checked for a microchip.
No chip was found, so instead, they took his picture, which the Trust circulated – giving any potential owner two weeks to claim him in case he had been stolen.
“I think four hours into having him, he was already mine. I’d fallen in love!” says Lexie now. And when nobody came forward, she decided to keep him.
“It’s definitely the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me. But I’m dog mad and, at the time, I was desperately trying to convince my boyfriend to have one.
"Then, out of the blue, I pulled up in the lay-by and a dog landed in front of my car – giving us both no choice!”
Wilf's age made her think that the little dog may have been stolen
She said: “Ten weeks is the age when puppies are often sold on, so it can’t have been a breeder. And, surely, if you had a puppy like him and you didn’t want him, you’d take him to a rescue centre," she added.
“None of it has ever made any sense and it remains a mystery why they did it.”
But, despite being incredibly cute, Wilf – who is now nearly three – proved to be quite a handful.
Lexie said: “Six months into having him, I was thinking, ‘What have I done?’ He was a liability and he’s still not perfect! He clearly had a horrible start and I don’t know what happened before I found him, but he’s terrified of everything and everyone.”
Wilf deals with his fear by "barking at anything he’s scared of. He barks at my dad, because he’s very tall, which scares him, or at the postman, because he’s walked past and unnerved him. He’s also terrified of other dogs. If we pass a dog on the street, he’s quite reactive, which is a lot of hard work in itself. That’s never a pleasure.”
But she added, “Once he’s settled, then he’s fine. It’s just the initial meet and greet.
"Even with friends, if he hasn’t met them before, they have to go in quite calmly and let him sniff them and get used to them, or he won’t be happy. He’s adorable, but he’s also hard work!”
However, Wilf stepped up in November 2019, when Lexie broke up with her boyfriend of six years, due to growing apart.
With a flat to sell, possessions to split and the heartache of starting over – especially when she moved to Bournemouth, to be closer to her family in March 2020 just before the pandemic hit – she said Wilf became her “best friend.”
She said: “I’d recently launched my business, I’d moved into a little one-bedroom flat, I didn’t really have friends nearby and I was trying to make money. When we were splitting our possessions, there was never any questioning the fact I was getting the dog!"
But when lockdown happened, she said, ““There were times when I really hit rock bottom, emotionally, but Wilf saved me and kept me going.
"The split left me with an awful lot to cope with – especially when Covid happened – and the routine of looking after Wilf and taking him for walks really gave me a structure and the motivation I needed to keep going.
“Lockdown meant I couldn’t go out to meet new people, so he was my little bestie – and still is. There have been points during the pandemic when, without Wilf, I couldn’t have got out of bed, yet alone run a business."
Now, things are better, and she's happy at work and ready to meet someone new. But for Lexie, Wilf's needs come first.
“It may sound ridiculous, but he is like having a child. If someone doesn’t like dogs – and in particular doesn’t like Wilf – I’m afraid it will never work for us.”
"He is far more important to me than any boyfriend.”
Lexie and Wilf are ambassadors for the Woof & Well Awards being run by pet food firm Vet’s Kitchen
Watch: Rescue dog excitedly rings bell after seeing bears in pool