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BBC viewers make friendship its own reward for Harriet

Viewers of the Friends for Life Competition, broadcast on BBC 2 on Sunday 9 March, voted Harriet Ringsell from Buckinghamshire the 2008 winner. The competition followed five stories of friendship in adversity where dogs had truly earned the title of man’s best friend.

Nominated as a Friend for Life by the people that know them, the competition was the recognition they deserve for the real difference they have made to their owners’ lives, be it through bravery, support or companionship. All the dogs showed unfailing loyalty and spirit in their constant desire to help, and are a great example of the incredible difference that dogs can make.

The public was most moved by the story of Harriet and her Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla, Yepa who share a special bond. Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 11 months of age, Harriet’s friendship with Yepa has opened up a whole new world of opportunities, including training Yepa and making friends within the breed despite her disabilities. After winning Friends for Life, Adrian Harriet’s father commented, “She’s just fantastic”.

Harriet and Yepa beat four other highly deserving entrants to clinch the overall award. The other entrants were:

Linda Bruce and her dog Sadie. In August 2005, Linda, who suffers from depression, saw a sad-looking black German Shepherd in the local kennels that had been rescued by the RSPCA. Her previous owner had mistreated her and if they could not find a home for her soon, she would be put to sleep.

Another close canine companion up for the award was Percy, a Labrador, owned by five year old William Johnson. Against the odds, William, who has autism, has been helped to go to the shops, go on holiday and go to school by his dog. Teachers have noticed a remarkable development of William’s communication skills since Percy came into his life.

In Afghanistan in 2006, Sgt Paul Farthing and his group of Royal Marines came across several dogs that had been abandoned in the desert. One, Nowzad, had been used as a fighting dog and had both ears and tail cut off. Tali came into Camp, starving and ready to give birth to her puppies. They were fed on left-over Marine rations and a bond developed between Paul and the dogs, who now live with him in England.

Closer to home, Hazel Carter, who in 2006 damaged her back and then was diagnosed with Polymyalgic Rheumatism, trained her Newfoundland, Connie, to become her carer. Connie started to do every day tasks such as carrying the potatoes, helping Hazel undress or doing the laundry. She has even taken on the role of assistant gardener.

Speaking on behalf of the Kennel Club, Caroline Kisko said “We congratulate Harriet and Yepa who have shown the value of dogs not just as pets but as companions and friends. Harriet’s struggle with adversity was made easier with Yepa’s help. The stories presented in the competition show that a friendship with dogs is rewarding for children and adults alike, and it is heart-warming to hear of how lives have been improved through these relationships.”