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Paralympic champion Clegg celebrating canine friends

The Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, and Paralympian Libby Clegg last week revealed the four finalists shortlisted for the prestigious Kennel Club Hero Dog Award, urging the public to vote for the dog they want to see crowned as the UK’s most heroic canine at Crufts 2024 (BeatMedia/Kennel Club)

By Abi Curran, Sportsbeat

Double Paralympic champion Libby Clegg insists her first guide dog Hatti helped her through her lowest moments and wants to shine a spotlight on unsung canine heroes.

The 33-year-old double Paralympic champion, who lives with genetic eye condition Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, had her now-retired Labrador Retriever by her side for nine years.

As an ambassador for The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award, the Stockport-born sporting star is celebrating four finalists who show the important roles four-legged friends play in society.

Support, companionship and hope are just some of the qualities the finalists bring to their owners and the people around them as they prepare for their special day at Crufts 2024.

Clegg said: “I’m honoured to be the ambassador for The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award this year because I know how important that partnership is through having a guide dog myself.

“It’s really nice to see the inspirational partnerships we have between owners and their dogs.

“They’re all so different as well and it’s great to see how they help each owner and organisation in different ways.

“I’m really looking forward to going to Crufts because it is a phenomenal experience, I can’t wait to go back after nine years.

“I’m so excited to announce the winners, especially after seeing all the phenomenal things these owners and dogs have done in their partnerships.

Judges from The Kennel Club, one of the UK’s largest dog welfare organisations, selected the four inspiring finalists to go to the public vote, which went live this week.

Nominees included a hearing dog who supports his young owner through anxiety and a search and rescue dog who locates survivors of humanitarian disasters across the world.

The winner will be announced by Clegg at the Birmingham NEC and on Channel 4 on Sunday 10 March to round off a brilliant Crufts 2024 week.

She added: “I was really nervous about getting a guide dog because I felt like it was going to hinder me.

“I didn’t realise how she was going to change my life. Hatti made me so much more independent and she gave me so much more confidence.

“She broke down so many barriers between myself and other people, I didn’t feel like I had to explain my disability to anyone anymore because all the focus was on her.

“It made me feel so much more secure, we had a really great partnership and in that time we built a really strong bond.

“It’s been amazing to see all the bonds between owners and their dogs, I’m feeling inspired by hearing their stories ahead of Crufts.”

Crufts, which celebrates dogs from all walks of life, takes place from 7-10 March at the NEC in Birmingham and tickets are available at crufts.org.uk