A Bichon Frise who supports ex-servicemen to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been named the HiLife, Pets As Therapy (PAT) Dog of the Year at Crufts 2019.
Four-year old Bella and her owner Barry Coase are PAT volunteers who provide animal assisted therapy in Eastbourne and were nominated for the awards by the schools, hospitals and community groups they visit regularly.
Bella and Barry’s story touched the hearts of more than 2700 people, who have been voting for the pawsome duo since the annual competition launched in November 2018.
Living with PTSD himself, Barry and Bella spend some of their time volunteering with Combat Stress, a charity that supports the mental health of ex-servicemen.
Commenting on the win, Barry said: “This is absolutely fantastic, I’m just so pleased for Bella. This achievement is a huge well done for all her hard work. Bella is a rescue dog and she didn’t have the best start in life. I got her when I was struggling with PTSD and she helps me manage it. She has a natural instinct for recognising when someone needs support.
“We entered the competition to help raise the profile of Combat Stress, a charity that means a lot to us. We have found that veterans, like me are able to open up in therapy when they are stroking Bella.”
Pets As Therapy is an independently funded charity with over 6,000 volunteers across the UK. It’s registered PAT pets provide animal assisted therapy and bring comfort, smiles and friendship to thousands of people every week.
Popular pet food brand, HiLife, has sponsored the competition for more than 15 years.
Gayle Eason for HiLife, said: “Huge congratulations to Barry and Bella who are worthy winners of this year’s title. Their story is truly inspirational and reminds us all of the incredible power of pets.
“We have supported Pets As Therapy for fifteen years now, with the award helping PAT to raise awareness of their important work and to encourage new volunteer. Over the years, we’ve seen first-hand the friendship, care and courage that PAT pets inspire in their communities. It also takes a very special owner to share their pet with others.
“HiLife PAT Dog of the Year gives us a chance to thank some of these amazing local heroes in person.”
Barry and Bella were presented with a cheque for £500- and three-months’ supply of HiLife goodies, with the runners up receiving a one month supply.