An eight-year-old girl battling Stage 4 cancer is set to capture the hearts of dog lovers everywhere when she competes at Crufts this week, with her four-legged best friend, Echo.
In December 2021, Freya Harris, from Horncastle in Lincolnshire, was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, a form of kidney cancer that only affects around 80 children in the UK a year.
Last year, her parents decided to get her an Australian Shepherd puppy, Echo, to encourage her to go for walks after having to spend weeks at a time in hospital.
It was then that Freya decided to take up the hobby of dog showing, following a dream since she’d had since she had started watching Crufts on television from a very young age, to one day try and compete at the show herself.
Incredibly, in just their first competition together, she and Echo qualified for Crufts, the greatest dog event in the world that celebrates every aspect of the role that dogs play in our lives.
The inseparable duo have been blazing a showing trail and hope to continue inspiring the community when they walk onto the world’s most famous dog stage at the NEC Birmingham on Friday
Freya said: “Echo is literally amazing. 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 go and play out, she will go play with me. It depends on my mood, that is her mood. She is everything you could think of for a dog.”
Since her diagnosis, Harris has endured a gruelling course of treatment including having a kidney removed, lung surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Remarkably, she was in hospital just hours before she was due to take to the ring in Boston for her Crufts qualifier. For her mum Gemma, it was just another example of the fighter that Freya is.
She said: “She’s had a very rare side effect from the chemo, which caused internal organ failure, which luckily, she managed to pull through.
Only one parent was allowed in the hospital at the time, so the doctor had to call me while I was at home and said, ‘You might have to prepare yourself to say goodbye’. And she pulled through, she did it.
“Then she had to have a massive transfusion that lasted for about six hours. s We didn’t get back home until the early hours of the morning, which was the same dayas the [Crufts qualifier] 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.”
Freya’s love of dogs started at an early age, when she would help her mum who used to work as a dog walker, and the two would always sit down to watch Crufts together. Now, people will be watching the inspirational duo of Freya and Echo take to the ring at the NEC this week.
Gemma added: “I know that people use the term soulmate or the heart dog or whatever, but Echo hasjust clicked with Freya. She knows that’s her mum.
“Bad days, she’s there. Good days, she’s there. She’s never fussed with her tubes or anything, she understands what’s out of bounds with the NG tube or wigglies as we call them that come out of her belly, she’s brilliant and she has never looked at them.
“Echo has definitely encouraged her to get out. Freya had issues with her muscles when she was hospitalised for so long, her muscles shortened.
“And then the chemo can cause things like drop foot and so Freya has suffered with that.
“She has to wear splints to try and help her to walk, which was hard for her but Echois the reason she would get up every day and do it.
“She’s got the responsibility of feeding, watering, brushing, everything, so it’s a reason to get out of bed and get home from treatment and look forward to the future.”
When starting on their showing journey,the Harris family came across a ringcraft class for Freya that catered specifically for those with additional needs.
“People were very welcoming, they accommodated what her requirements were, they just accommodated whatever she needed to be done,” Gemma added. “We are really grateful for that because it has let her follow her dream. She’s following it and they guided her in the right direction as to what she needs to do, so they’ve taken us under their wing.”
With just a few days to go until Crufts, Freya cannot wait to be surrounded by thousands of dogs and dog lovers. But when it comes to the competition, she has an outlook we can all learn from.
Freya said: “It’s all about the participation. It doesn’t matter if you win – it is just about trying.”
Crufts, run by The Kennel Club, is a unique celebration of happy, healthy dogs and of the loving relationship that they enjoy with their owners. Crufts is held from 9-12 March 2023 at the NEC Birmingham. Viewers can follow all the action and highlights on Channel 4 and More4, and for further information and tickets visit crufts.org.uk