A four-year-old Bichon Frise has been named the HiLife Pets As Therapy Dog 2019, at Crufts, following her volunteering work with veterans.
Bella, along with her owner Barry Coase, is a PAT volunteer who has been supporting veterans in Eastbourne coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The pair were nominated for the charity’s annual award by the schools, hospitals and community groups they regularly visit to provide animal assisted therapy.
Bella and Barry’s inspirational 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.”
The pair are just two of the 6,000 volunteers across the UK who work with the independently funded charity bringing comfort and smiles to thousands of people every week.
Gayle Eason for HiLife, who have sponsored the competition for more than 15 years, 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 volunteers. 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.