Five finalists in the Crufts’ 2018 Friends for Life award

Dogs really are man’s best friend and following the Kennel Club’s nationwide search to find hero dogs that have had a life-changing impact on people’s lives, the five finalists will be at Crufts this year. Ann Evans tells us more.


Amongst the many displays and competitions that will take place at this year’s Crufts, will be the Kennel Club’s Friends for Life competition which celebrates dogs that have had a major impact on people’s lives.

In January the Kennel Club launched their nationwide search to find these hero dogs. The public were asked to nominate a dog that had changed the life of its owner, or another person and deserved recognition for it.

More than 300 owners entered their pets into the 2018 Crufts Hero Dog Awards telling wonderful stories of a dog’s bond with its owner and its unfailing help, companionship and support to a person or people who need their help. Each of the finalists were chosen from five distinct categories and entered into a public vote to name the top hero dog.

The winner will receive £5,000 from The Kennel Club Charitable Trust for the dog charity of their choice, and other finalists will also receive £1,000 towards their own canine charities. Voting remains open until midday this Sunday, 11th March 2018.

The five finalists are:

Sir Jack Spratticus and Vanessa Holbrow

Sir Jack Spratticus the Border Terrier and Vanessa Holbrow 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

Waffle and Sarah Mohammadi from Hayes, West London.

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 and Clare Wilde

Taz the Collie and Gayle Wilde 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.

Griffin and Clare Syvertsen

Clare Syvertsen and Griffin 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 and Hannah Gates

Buttons the Shih Tzu and Hannah Gates 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.

Buttons and Hannah Gates

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

The winner will be revealed in the Genting Arena at Crufts on Sunday 11th March at 5.20pm.


Crufts takes place at the Birmingham NEC from Thursday 8th March to Sunday 11th March.

For more information and tickets go to:

Photos are courtesy of The Kennel Club PA.