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People’s pet awards – WINNERS announced

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That is why the team behind the Animal Hero Awards, this year launched the inaugural Mirror People’s Pet Awards. The Awards, run with innovative pet food, treats and toys brand Webbox and charity partner Dogs Trust, will celebrate the unique bond we have with our pets, and the inspirational ways they change our lives.

The inspirational animal award winners will be presented with their awards at a glittering, star-studded dinner at London’s Grosvenor House on Thursday night, after first walking the red carpet!

It is guaranteed to be one of the most heart-warming nights of the year, packed with emotion, celebrity surprises and magical moments that are sure to capture the nation’s hearts. All of which can be seen when the Awards premiere on YouTube on December 14 at 7pm.

Winners include animals who have overcome impossible odds, rescue cats and dogs who inspire everyone they meet, and others who are literally lifesavers. They will also include pets who simply make us smile and warm our hearts.

Hosting the awards, in its inaugural year, is stand-up comedian and TV presenter Judi Love who said “I’m absolutely thrilled to be hosting the first ever Mirror People’s Pet Awards. The winners are amazing, and I’ve been crying and laughing in equal measure when I’ve been finding out all about them. I know it’s going to be an incredible show. We’ll have a tiny horse on stage, what’s not to like?”

Dogs Trust Chief Executive Owen Sharp said “It’s a wonderful year to be the charity partner for the People’s Pet Awards, celebrating the special bond we have with our pets.

“Our relationship with our pets, and our dogs in particular, was a lifeline for so many of us during the pandemic, so we’re thrilled to be able to honour heroes such as the great Galahad, winner of the Dogs Trust Dog of the Year. 

“But they’re all heroes and the stories behind the award winners – from campaigners working to change the law to help animals, to animals who have changed people’s lives – will melt your heart.”

Tony Raeburn, CEO of Webbox, added “It’s great to be back! This is the fourth year that Webbox have had the joy of sponsoring Mirror Awards and we are excited to be able to celebrate this years’ winners in person. As a company of passionate pet lovers, we are delighted to support the People’s Pet Awards and celebrate truly remarkable pets and their people.”

 The Mirror People’s Pet Awards, in partnership with Dogs Trust and Webbox, will premiere on YouTube on Tuesday December 14 at 7pm.

FULL LIST OF WINNERS:

CARING ANIMAL OF THE YEAR – FLORA & KIN

Medical alert dogs who can sense when their owner is about to black out, allowing him to lead a normal life again.

For 12 years Robert, from North London, had suffered from blackouts that his doctors couldn’t explain even though they put his life at risk.

He was too scared to go outside and felt suicidal, as he could lose consciousness at any time. Robert was finally diagnosed with cardiac syncope, a heart condition that causes him to blackout but also atonal epilepsy which causes seizures.

Within weeks of Akita Flora coming to live with Robert as a puppy, his life was transformed. Robert, now 61, was once again able to venture out as Flora was able to warn him when an attack was about to happen.

The canine, who was then the only Akita qualified and working as a medical alert dog, blocks Robert’s path when she senses he is about to collapse. She will gently take his hand in her mouth and pull downwards, indicating he should lie down.

One time, Flora managed to open the flat door and get the help of neighbours. In the hospital Flora sensed her owner was becoming increasingly unwell during the wait and barked to get the medics’ attention.

The partnership was such a success that Robert decided to get another Akita to keep Flora company. Kin, a Japanese Akita Inu, joined them two years later, and the pair became fast friends. Sadly, Flora died suddenly earlier this year, days short of her 9th birthday.  Since then Kin, now 7, has stepped up and taken on the baton, and can do everything that Flora did.

Robert can lose consciousness at any time — for example while crossing a busy road — making almost any situation dangerous. “Having that warning gives me a few moments to get to safety, whether I’m at the edge of a road, in a park or walking by a riverbank,” says Robert. “Flora and Kin gave me my life back.”

CARING ANIMAL OF THE YEAR – WILSON

Therapy pony who brings comfort, companionship and care to the elderly and disabled in care homes, schools and day centres.

When miniature pet pony Wilson first trotted into a rehabilitation care home all the residents fell immediately in love with the charismatic Shetland. The patients – many with brain injuries – immediately bonded with the tiny horse and the care home asked if he could visit again soon.

That was five years ago, and since then his owners Elaine and John Sangster have taken Wilson to visit hundreds of sick and disabled children as well as elderly patients and dementia sufferers across Scotland.

The couple now own 15 miniature therapy ponies but knee-high Wilson is a firm favourite. Elaine, from West Lothian, says: “Wilson is such a character, people always want to hug and kiss him. We’d been keeping miniature Shetlands as pets for around ten years but he is particularly special. We even took Wilson on our honeymoon as he was too young to be left alone.

“Wilson is the reason why we went on that first visit to the care home. It made us realise that we wanted to share the joy and love that we got from the ponies and do this full time. As soon as we made that decision, we were inundated with requests. People don’t see Wilson and his friends as horses in a field but rather a pet.”

The couple now visit care homes, nursing homes, hospices, day-care centres, sheltered housing facilities and out-of-school clubs for disabled children across Scotland.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION – DR DANIEL ALLEN & DEBBIE MATTHEWS

Thanks to Daniel’s petition and pressure from campaigners, pet abduction in England is set to become a criminal offence for the first time.

It’s been a growing problem and one that causes untold pain for heartbroken owners. Now, thanks to the work of Dr Daniel Allen and Debbie Matthews, as well as their fellow campaigners, pet abduction is about to be formally recognised as a crime.

Dog theft in particular soared during the pandemic and campaigners were shocked to discover that prosecutions were impossible as the law still classes most pets as property.

Daniel, an animal geographer at Keele University, decided to do something to reform the outdated legislation.

He teamed up with campaigners from the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (SAMPA) including co-founder Debbie, to launch a petition to have the law changed – working hard to notch up 100,000 signatures in just four months.

In July 2021 the issue was debated in Parliament, and the government pledged to change the law to make pet abduction a crime.

Daniel is continuing to campaign to make the politicians keep their promises. He said: “When the government pledged five-year sentences for animal cruelty, it took over five years for legislation to actually be put in place. Think how many dogs could be stolen if we have to wait five years for this law to come into effect. It would simply be too long to wait.”

Debbie has been campaigning for a pet theft law since 2014 after her own dogs were stolen back in 2006. The 66-year-old was fortunate enough to be reunited with her two Yorkshire Terriers following a TV appeal alongside her father.

As well as founding SAMPA, she is also founder of Bruce Forsyth’s Vets Get Scanning Petition.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION – TUKS LAW

Campaigners trying to change the law to stop healthy rescue pets being euthanised by vets.

Tuk, a Mioritic Shepherd dog, was rescued from the streets of Romania as a five‑week‑old puppy and rehomed in the UK. But the adoption went wrong and the dog was subsequently advertised on Gumtree despite the owners having signed a contract not to pass him.

At 18 months old and healthy, Tuk was euthanised by a vet who failed to scan his original chip. Had they checked, it would have been discovered the person who requested euthanasia was not the registered keeper, and that the rescue charity would have guaranteed him a home for life.

Following his death, campaigners Sue Williams and Dawn Ashley launched an online petition called ‘Tuks Law’ so no healthy animal can be destroyed by a vet without first scanning the pet’s microchip to confirm the person requesting euthanasia has the authority to do so.

In under five months they secured 121,000 signatures but despite being introduced in Parliament last year, the law is yet to pass.

Sue, 51, and Dawn 58, have vowed not to give up. Sue said: “Tuks Law is the only campaign calling for mandatory scanning prior to euthanasia. Rescued animals with rescue back up should not be losing their lives whilst an option is in place that can save them and pets with owners should not be losing their lives without being scanned first. We always remember that Tuk had to die so others could be saved.”

ANIMAL HERO – CHRIS KENT 

Founder of the K9 Project, bringing together abandoned dogs and people facing challenges in their lives, with remarkable results.

Chris set up the K9 Project in 2008, combining her experience of community and social work with her interest and expertise in animal behaviour. Programmes include K9 Confidence, for children and young people lacking in confidence, combining personal development, goal setting, and hands-on work with dogs. One participant, James, 10, told his teacher: “My life is just so much better with these dogs in it.”

Take The Lead helps older children and young adults, and Walk Your Worries Away is designed for young people struggling to maintain emotional wellbeing due to life circumstances. Sessions involve a dog walk where young people can escape from their usual pressures, helping with anxiety, social isolation, and relationship issues, especially for those living in hostels or temporary accommodation, and for young people who are care leavers.

Since the pandemic Chris has focussed on working mostly on children and teenagers who have become increasingly anxious over the last 18 months and who refuse to leave the house. Chris will take individuals out on walks with her rescue dogs in their local environment to experience nature. She is also working with younger children, many of whom have additional needs, who have developed a fear of dogs since lockdown.

“Most of the children I see are over 11. We try to build their confidence and learn techniques for managing anxiety.  It’s about doing it step by step and just getting them to leave their homes is a huge leap.”

WEBBOX JOY OF PETS AWARD – MINTY

Cat who lost a leg in a road accident helps seven-year-old Connor cope with severe learning and mobility problems.

Despite only having three legs after being hit by a car, Minty is a cat carer for a little boy struggling to cope with complex needs. Connor Raven, seven, has severe learning difficulties and a series of medical conditions that make it hard for him to keep his balance and stay mobile.

Minty, who lives with Connor and mum in Holywell, Flintshire, loves to be by Connor’s side – providing comfort and encouragement when he needs it most. He comes to Connor’s aid when things get difficult, rubbing his face on his hand and helping him when he was learning to climb the stairs.

Connor’s mum, Siobhan says: “Connor can be very loud, and his medical conditions mean he’s very wobbly and clumsy. Many pets would understandably keep their distance, but not Minty – when Connor is at his most in need, Minty is there like a shot.

Minty would spend hours jumping one step at a time, stopping to allow Connor to catch up. It was incredible to witness him patiently encourage Connor to achieve something he found so difficult.”

FULL LIST OF WINNERS:

RESCUE CAT OF THE YEAR – FIRE CAT

 Tiny kitten nearly burnt to death in a bonfire went on to make a miracle recovery after being adopted by the veterinary nurse who saved him.

Fire Cat was rescued by police officers who spotted him lying in the road near a bonfire. He had suffered horrific burns – including losing all the fur on his face – and was taken to Pride Veterinary Centre in Derby where he was given a slim chance of survival.

Veterinary nurse Jenni Gretton said: “He smelled of burnt hair because he was singed. All his fur was charred and his ears and whiskers were burnt. All the skin on his face was burnt and his eyes were really quite singed. His ears were clinging over the top and he was really sore. “His lips were burnt away right to his teeth.

“He looked worse a few days later when the skin started to peel off – the skin on his face peeled away after a few days. It was difficult to know whether to carry on with treatment or not. We decided to try,” added Jenni. “I was bathing him throughout the day and putting vaseline on his wounds. His skin fell off his face and nose.”

Fire Cat was put on fluids and vets were unsure whether he would survive. But after an operation to save his eye and dress his wounds, he survived. Jenni was so taken with him, she started an online campaign to raise money for his treatment. After just six hours of launching the campaign, well-wishers donated £2,000 to cover his vet’s bills.

Jenni, 32, adopted the kitten, who she named Fire Cat, after no one came forward to claim him. She added: “We still don’t know who his owners were, what happened to him or whether it was malicious or not.

DOGS TRUST DOG OF THE YEAR – GALAHAD

Rescue dog that weighed the same as a baby elephant finally finds his forever home.

He was the biggest dog that Dogs Trust had ever cared for – a gentle giant who struggled to find a home. When 100kg mastiff Galahad arrived, he weighed the same as a baby elephant. Despite the charity’s best efforts, they struggled to find a permanent home for the super-sized but big-hearted pooch.  Several owners tried but found they couldn’t cope.

But now Galahad, five, has finally found his happy ending – after settling in with his forever family in Kent. He’s become part of the Dimmock family, sharing their home, using their three-seater sofa as his bed and becoming a great pal to son Matthew, 15, who is autistic. Dad Colin, says: “He’s fantastic – he sits, gives you his paw, he comes up and gives you a kiss, he’s met cyclists, tractors, cars, other dogs, and is brilliant with our son Matthew – he likes everything about Galahad apart from the slobber!

“He’s just starting to play tug. He’ll chase a football down the garden and once he’s punctured it he’ll bring it back. We haven’t found a toy he can’t destroy yet – typically they last about a day. “He snores so loudly we can hear him from our bedroom”.

TEAM DOGS HERO ANIMAL – HEL

Husky sniffed out an abandoned baby, nuzzling him gently and alerting her owner, saving the newborn’s life.

Hel was on a walk with her owner last April, when she discovered the infant, who was just a few hours old. The baby boy was wrapped in a blanket and wearing a Matalan t-shirt when he was found in an open space known as the Mound in Kings Norton, Birmingham. Hel lay down next to him and gently nudged him with her nose in an effort to wake him.

Owner Terry Walsh, 64, said he would have carried on walking by if Hel had not alerted him, as he thought he’d just stumbled on a discarded blanket. 

The former royal engineer said: “Suddenly I heard this baby cry. I think it was Hel’s gentle nudging and the heat from her body that woke the baby up. I thank the Lord that the baby was alive, that could have been a lot worse. The baby could have been dead. I said to my neighbours, heaven sent Hel to rescue that newborn baby boy.”

The baby was taken to hospital and found to be in good health. Hospital staff later called him George as he was discovered the day before St George’s Day, and he has now been taken into foster care.

INSPIRATIONAL ANIMAL OF THE YEAR – PEG

Dog brought to Britain from Afghanistan provides lasting comfort to the parents of the soldier who befriended him on the frontline.

Conrad Lewis was deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment in October 2010. In a letter home to his parents Tony and Sandi, the young soldier told them about a stray dog he had adopted, named Pegasus – or Peg for short.

Tony recalls: “When he first wrote back he said he’d got a dog, and that he’d taught her to sit and give him a paw. She was that non-human he could talk to about the things he had seen and what he was feeling, that bit of hope and comfort. When he came home for Christmas he brought pictures of Peg.”

Conrad, 22, was killed by a Taliban sniper on February 9, 2011 while on foot patrol in Nad-e Ali.

Still in the depths of grief, Conrad’s parents knew they had to respect their son’s wishes and look after Peg. Tony says: “It was very important for us to bring his dog back. My wife said we can’t look after Conrad any more but we can look after his dog.” 

The couple contacted former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, whose Nowzad charity looks after stray animals in Afghanistan, and has also reunited more than 1,600 dogs and cats with soldiers who came to rely on them on the frontline.

Peg arrived in the UK in June 2011 and lives with Tony and Sandi in Warwickshire. Tony says: “She’s been a great source of comfort and joy, knowing that Conrad loved her and talked with her. She’s a great companion and makes us smile.”

RESCUE DOG OF THE YEAR – BELLA

Miracle dog who found her forever home, after being tied to a rock and thrown in the river to drown.

Plucky Belgian Shepherd Bella was tied to a rock and left to drown in a river by her cruel owners before she was rescued and found a loving new home in South Derbyshire. 

The 11-year-old dog, who suffered from a series of complex health needs, was tied to a rock and thrown into the freezing River Trent, near Newark, in January 2020.

Two dog-walkers spotted her struggling and one of them, Jane Harper, went into the water to rescue her. She was barely alive and Jane – and her friend Jo Harper – took her straight to a local vet who battled to save her life. 

Remarkably, she pulled through and was taken to the Ratcliffe Animal Centre, an RSPCA Trust, where Ella Carpenter and Sophie Major worked to recover her so that she could be rehomed.

After 15 months recuperating she was found a safe home she could call her own – living with a retired couple in the South Derbyshire countryside. She spent a happy year getting cuddles and being spoiled by her new owners Maggie Mellish and Charlie Douglas. Sadly, last month Bella succumbed to her old injuries and she passed away in their loving arms.

PEOPLE’S PET OF THE YEAR – TAO AND OKO

Blind golden retriever and his guide dog puppy whose adorable antics have gone viral as they share their story to raise awareness.

Beloved pet Tao, 12, lost his eyesight suddenly last year after being diagnosed with glaucoma. Following his surgery, Tao seemed low so owner Melanie Jackson came up with a brilliant plan to lift his spirits and keep him mobile.

She got him his own guide dog in the form of 16-week-old golden retriever Oko. The pair bonded immediately, and Melanie decided to share their story and antics online to raise awareness of genetic glaucoma in dogs.

Melanie set up an Instagram page for Tao, who she dubbed ‘Mr Winky’ before he was completely blind. As well as sharing cute pictures of Tao, she documented the process of welcoming Oko to the family.

They now have 57,000 fans on social media, and one of their most popular images is of Tao wearing a bandana saying ‘Blind Dog’ while Oko sports one with the words ‘Sight Dog’ emblazoned. Melanie, from Somerset, said: “Tao was diagnosed with glaucoma – a common eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged – when he was 10.

“It all happened so fast as he was fine in the morning but in the evening he was shaking his head which suggested he was in pain. Five hours later, he was blind and his eye was removed!”

She added: “They are such a special team they are and l really believe they deserve this award.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION – KRATU

Kratu’s cheeky, clownish behaviour often has owner Tess Eagle Swan in stitches. “I love his sheer, unadulterated joy and naughtiness, it makes me laugh,” says Tess.

Kratu stole the show at the annual Crufts dog show in Birmingham, England, three years in a row for his total disregard for the competition’s obstacle course, instead running all over the floor, hiding in the tunnels, and – in a show-stopping grand finale – grabbing a pole from one of the hurdles and making off with it.

Kratu, eight, a Carpathian–Mioritic mix rescue dog, is also a support animal for Tess. She was diagnosed with autism in adulthood, and when she feels a sensory overload, Kratu will put his paw on her to keep her calm. “It is called deep paw pressure and is very grounding, that stops anxiety for me,” explains Tess. “I could not imagine life without Kratu, he is simply amazing.”

Kratu also supports the All-party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Welfare Group (APDAWG) in Parliament and is a regular at the House of Commons at their meetings. During lockdown he conducted virtual therapy dog visits with primary school children and a book telling his life story is being launched in March.

Find out more about the People’s Pet Awards 2021: www.thepeoplespetawards.co.uk

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