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- Not all hearts and flowers

Photo by Ruth Chapman & Angela Cavill
The winner of the Gold Medal for Pet of the Year, Kandy,
and his young owner Jamie Sutherland

Dressed in my Sunday best and with tissues at the ready it was off to the PRO Dog of the Year Awards Luncheon again. Why the tissues? Well if you need to ask you have obviously never been! First up on the itinerary, after morning coffee of course, are the PRO Dogs Awards – a mixture of tear jerking tales of ‘doggy’ bravery and heroics, enough to set off even the unemotional. This year was no exception!

The first category was Pet of The Year. The citations were read out as usual by Bernard Hall, well known commentator for many a dog show. Nominees don’t know whether they have won silver or gold until it is announced which adds to the tension.

The Gold Medal winner was Kandy, a yellow labrador trained by Dogs For The Disabled. Her owner, Jamie Sutherland, sustained severe head injuries as a teenager and after a year in hospital is now confined to a wheelchair. Not being able to join in with his friends left Jamie feeling more and more withdrawn. His decision to write to Dogs For The Disabled was a turning point and with Kandy’s help Jamie no longer feels so isolated and has given him the confidence that he couldn’t find on his own.

The Silver Medal in this category was awarded to Katie, a Lakeland trailhound. Katie was rescued from the Lakeland Trailhound Trust, who had offered her a temporary home, by Margaret Thomson. Katie had always lived in kennels and Margaret had quite a task in front of her to prove that the Trailhound would make a good ‘housedog’. The perseverance of both dog and owner paid off and Katie is not only excellent around the home but she went on to be one of PRO Dogs first PRO Dogs Educators, a scheme set up to help promote responsible dog ownership. Katie is also working towards her KC Good Citizen Gold Award.

Next it was my favourite category, Devotion to Duty. I love to see dogs working and doing something worthwhile – the winners of this award definitely fit the bill.

The Gold Medal winners were Gemma and Max, both collies attached to Leicestershire Fire Service Search and Rescue teams, handled by Chris Pritchard and Keith Hampton. Their work is varied and takes them around the world - both having been involved in searches overseas after earthquakes. In fact, they were only recently released from quarantine after helping in Algeria which, of course, is not a country covered by the Pet Travel Scheme.

The Silver Medal winner was equally as deserving. Chase is an English Springer Spaniel (with an interesting trim!), who excels at his work as a ‘top performing’ dog in the Custom’s Department. To date he has detected between 20-30 million pounds worth of illicit drugs at British ports and has removed more than half a million ‘deals’ on our streets.

Chase was trained by the Defence Animal Centre at Melton Mowbray. In 2003 he was awarded a prize of £250 at the Golden Bonio Awards – his prize was donated to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People – no doubt at his request!

Silver Medals were also awarded to Rebel, a Border Collie, and his mate Rocky a yellow labrador. Both work within the prison service detecting the many illegal substances that find their way in to our prisons. Rebel is the only dog in the prison service trained specifically to detect illegally distilled alcohol, a problem which resulted in many injuries for prison staff when inmates ‘were high on the brew’. Not to be left out Rocky has detected in excess of £26,000 of drugs entering prisons and as a result positive drugs tests on inmates have been reduced from 32.8% to just 9%. As they say dogs are a ‘mans best friend’, but somehow I think this is a statement that most inmates would probably disagree with!

Next the weepy bit – Life Saving 2003.

The Gold Medal winner was Chihuahua, Pepe. Small is beautiful as they say and owner Hazel Woodget would definitely agree. Thanks to Pepe’s persistent and abnormal behaviour Hazel decided to seek medical advice and was diagnosed with breast cancer. It is now becoming widely accepted that some dogs can detect cancer cells and research is underway by Dr. John Church from Cambridge University, to look at this more seriously.

The Silver Medal winner was Orca, a Golden Retriever trained by Canine Partners. Orca is ‘partner’ to Cheryl Smith, who is confined to a wheelchair through a neurological illness. During an outing to the country Cheryl’s wheelchair went out of control and resulted in her being plunged down an embankment. Cheryl was left trapped in a ditch with her chair on top of her. Orca came to the rescue and in true Lassie fashion went for help. His first attempt was thwarted when a passer by mistook him for a stray and tried to return him home, undeterred he slipped his collar and tried again. This time he was successful and took jogger, Peter Harrison, to where Cheryl was trapped. With help from the emergency services the story has a happy ending but I suspect only because of Orca’s intuition and loyalty.

This year the Lesley Scott-Ordish Award, which is not always given, was awarded to the Young Kennel Club, commonly known as the YKC. Formerly known as the Kennel Club Junior Organisation the YKC was recognised because of its contribution to the education and promotion of responsible dog owners in the years to come. Eric Smethurst and Vanessa McAlpine were there to collect the award.

PRO Dogs awarded four Certificates of Merit for 2003. Firstly to a very shocked and surprised Angela Cavill who, for the first time since I’ve known her, was left quite speechless! Angela’s award was in recognition of her international role in the world of dogs following her recent award at the Finnish Embassy of the Cross of Merit of the Order of the White Cross.

Next up was Val Philips who runs the Valgrays Border Collie and Animal Rescue. Over the years Val has assessed and rehomed hundreds of dogs and I was particularly pleased to see Val receiving an award, not only because we’ve featured Valgrays work in Dogs Monthly but because I feel it is important that the work of the smaller animal charities is recognised and publicised.

Bill Hardaway, who unfortunately could not be present to accept his award, is known to many in his role as Vice Chairman of the Kennel Club. His award was in recognition for his leadership of the Good Citizen Dog Scheme – a kennel club initiative to promote the importance of owning a well trained dog. To date over 50,000 dogs and owners have put themselves through the scheme.

David Spencer, who was also unable to attend, received his Certificate of Merit for his ‘unstinting efforts in fund raising’ for canine charities.

The PRO Dogs Educator of the Year 2003 was awarded to Joan Cattell. Joan, with her Border Collie Midge, has visited over 500 children in Leicestershire this year as well as giving talks to local rescue centres and attending events such as Discover Dogs and Wag and Bone to name but a few!

A special ‘thank you’ was also extended to PRO Dog Educators – Jackie Strong, Susan Yates, Marcia Ansell and Ann Shaw who had all worked tirelessly with their dogs throughout the year on PRO Dogs behalf.

This year the PRO Dogs Special Award also brought a tear to the eye! The award went to PRO Dogs Chief Executive, Mike Findlay, who accepted the award on behalf of his two labradors, litter sisters Bess and Beauty. Whilst out exercising his labs in remote fields Mike collapsed due to acute pneumonia. The dogs did what came naturally and stayed close to Mike, but flitted between him and the gateway to the field until they were spotted by Mike’s neighbour. Knowing the dogs were never allowed out unaccompanied the alarm was raised and a search began. Mike was taken, still unconscious, by ambulance to hospital and his beloved girls looked after by the neighbour during his stay in hospital.

This year 403 dogs took part in the ‘Downathon’ – a five minute down stay raising money for PRO Dogs. The handlers that raised the most sponsorship money received an award sponsored by Signature Engraved Glassware.

After all the prize giving a much needed lunch was required and we weren’t disappointed, especially with the pudding! The wine (and there seemed to be a lot of it!) was donated as usual by Bablake Wines Ltd.

After lunch a treat was in store. The winner of the PRO Dog of the Year Obedience Finals, Wendy Hagger and her collie Ludo (Aramisty Double O’Seven O.W.) and runner up, Stella Henstridge and her collie Ziggy (Dumaval Zhivargo), gave an obedience demonstration. Much to the interest and probably amusement of some of the medal winning collies, these two gave an excellent display from ‘heelwork’, ‘send away’- for which Christmas Hats made very apt markers - to ‘scent discrimination’. A total of 25 dogs entered the competition and the final was hosted by Birmingham and District GSD Association and supported by Pedigree Masterfoods. The judge was Jean Everist who was present to see her winners receive their awards.

This year the PRO Dog Of The Year Special Beginners’ Stakes class was launched. It’s first winner was Katy Girdler with Retriever cross ‘I’m Tam Not Sam’.

Throughout the year PRO Dog’s members can enter their dog in to the
PRO Dogs Stakes. One of the main purposes of the PRO Dogs luncheon is to find the PRO Dog of the Year. This year the judge was Terry Desomere (Braneath) who has had numerous champion Boston Terriers and Miniature Schnauzers. As a member of both PRO Dogs and the Kennel Club, Terry was honoured by his invitation.


There were fewer dogs this year than normal as the date had clashed with several breed club shows, nevertheless Terry had a respectable 15 dogs to go over with most groups well represented. With plenty of room for the larger breeds to stride out on the move I felt some of the heavier coated breeds did seem to be feeling the heat, although the benches were lovely and cool (in fact that end was positively chilly – I didn’t stop long!).

Having seen each dog individually Terry then pulled out five to look at again, these were the Lhasa Apso Church’s Askja Place the Face SHCM, Afghan Boydell’s Ch. Manhattan Transfer at Warrenoak J.W., Wire Haired Dachshund Abbott’s Gayteckels Seainspiration, Weimaraner Powell’s Madreliaths Johanna and finally the Dalmatian Alexander’s Ch. Offordale Rialto.

The overall winner was the Weimaraner who qualified for the final at the Christchurch New Forest Show. Hannah, as she is known at home, apparently likes all outdoor pursuits and has a keen instinct to work. A homebred bitch the Powell’s were very excited about Hannah’s first big win – she has some catching up to do with her son Madreliaths (which is gaelic for ‘grey dog’) Muller von Weltguist who is currently doing extremely well in the showring.

The runner up a very happy Dalmatian known as Lulu is no stranger to the PRO Dogs ring as she was pulled out in the last four at last years final. She is currently the Top Dalmatian bitch and has 5 CCs and 5 RCCs under her belt. Again a home bred bitch her owner
described her as "a bit of a thief"!

The prizes were awarded by Matthew Bostock from Nestle Purina, who supported the event, and then a lap of honour was richly deserved.

After an eventful day the raffle, which raised a very respectable figure of £533 was drawn during afternoon tea.

The PRO Dogs team and their volunteers can be proud of what they achieve each year but, as with any charity funds are always a problem. This year they launched their new membership at Discover Dogs, which includes free third party insurance cover with each membership to help encourage more dog owners to sign up. If you would like more information on the work of the charity or would like to sign up as a member contact PRO Dogs, 4 New Road, Ditton, Kent, ME20 6AD or telephone 01732-848499. Email