Girl competing in Crufts with dog that helps her through cancer treatment03/10/2023
Freya Harris and her dog Echo have a very special bond.
Now eight, Freya was diagnosed with with Wilms’ tumour – a form of kidney cancer that affects 80 children in the UK each year – in December 2021.
After spending weeks in at a time in hospital going through gruelling treatments, her parents bought Australian Shepherd Echo, hoping to encourage her to stay active.
Not only did they hit it off right away, they’ll be competing in Crufts together this weekend, fulfilling Freya’s dream of taking part in the prestigious show.
Freya’s mum Gemma, from Horncastle in Lincolnshire, says the pair’s connection was instant.
‘I know that people use the term soulmate or the heart dog or whatever, but Echo has just clicked with Freya,’ she comments. ‘She knows that’s her mum.’
The family’s world was turned upside down when doctors gave them the devastating news Freya had cancer.
Gemma, who works as a dog walker, explains: ‘We didn’t know the extent of it yet or how bad it was it was.
‘Then it was confirmed stage four, she had her kidney removed, had lung surgery on both lungs, chemo treatment for an entire year so far and radiotherapy, you name it.’
Freya also experienced rare side effects from chemotherapy that caused internal organ failure, but thankfully she managed to pull through.
The schoolgirl had been a dog lover from an early age, regularly joining her mum at work and religiously watching Crufts on TV.
So, to cheer her up after the traumatic ordeal she’d faced and motivate her to get outdoors, Gemma decided a puppy would be the perfect thing.
Echo was the last in the litter of Australian Shepherds, a breed Freya chose because ‘they are cute, they are a good show dog, and they are everything you need.’
She says life with the pet, who has been taught to steer clear of his owner’s tubes and medical equipment, is ‘literally amazing.’
Freya continues: ‘If I am having a bad day, she will have a bad day with me – she will snuggle up on the sofa with me.
‘If I go and play out, she will go play with me. It depends on my mood, that is her mood.’
Since getting Echo, the eight-year-old has come on in leaps and bounds, going out for almost-daily walks and training Echo to do ‘things she has only ever seen on TV’.
As her showing skills developed, Freya applied for Crufts, but nearly missed the qualifiers due to a round of intensive treatment the night before.
Gemma says: ‘She had to have a massive transfusion that lasted for about six hours.
‘We didn’t get back home until the early hours of the morning, which was the same day as the show, but she was adamant, “We’re not staying at home, we’re going.”
‘It was an absolute whirlwind of a day, she was just absolutely buzzing to get in the ring, and it wasn’t until after the show finished that we told her that she had qualified for Crufts.
‘That’s when she was screaming and jumping around with joy and nearly crying with how excited she was.’
The best pals will take the stage on the second day of Crufts at the NEC Birmingham, with Freya taking on the contest with a calm and collected approach.
‘It’s all about the participation,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter if you win – it is just about trying.’
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