Buster from RAF Waddington wins Friends for Life at Crufts 2012

RAF dog Buster was the surprise star of Crufts tonight as Jennifer Saunders announced him and his owner Michael as the winners of the Friends For Life competition.

The heart-warming competition showcased five amazing hero dogs and called on the British public to vote for their favourite. Today (Sunday March 11th) Michael Barrow and his RAF dog Buster were announced as the overall winners and were presented with their award in the packed NEC Arena on the final day of Crufts.

The proud winners, from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire were presented with their trophy and a cheque from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust which Michael will be donating to his chosen charity, Hounds for Heroes.

Springer Spaniel, Buster is now retired after completing five tours of duty, braving bombs and bullets with the RAF. Buster has returned home a military hero and is now enjoying retirement at home with RAF Police Sergeant Michael Barrow who he worked with for several years.

While in service, Buster saved countless lives by sniffing out explosives, leading to the arrests of two suicide bombers in Afghanistan. He joined his comrades repeatedly on foot patrols through the poppy fields, hunting Taliban insurgents and tracking down booby trap bombs left behind for British and American troops.

Speaking about their win, Michael said: “It’s absolutely fantastic, I am so pleased, more for Buster as it’s a culmination of a fantastic career. There is nothing like the bond we have - he has literally saved my life.”

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club spokesperson, said: “We give our warmest congratulations to Michael and Buster and our thanks to Jennifer Saunders who kindly agreed to present the award to the truly deserving pair.

“Friends for Life is a competition where we celebrate dogs that have truly earned the title of man’s best friend through bravery, support or companionship. All the dogs nominated have shown unfailing loyalty and spirit in their constant desire to help, and are a great example of the incredible difference that dogs can make to our lives.

“Crufts celebrates the diverse role that dogs play in society and their vast range of talents, jobs and hobbies. Each and every one of the finalists today has helped to change and save lives, and can teach us all a lesson about loyalty, companionship and bravery.”

11th March 2012

For journalists who would like further press information, images or interview requests click here.

•        Images of the winners can be downloaded from the fully managed online Press Office service World Wide Images at http://www.w-w-i.com/crufts_2012/.
•        To arrange a radio interview, please contact Talking Point Broadcasting on 07970 617622 or email tpb@talkingpointbroadcasting.co.uk.
Video Footage
•        For video footage from the event please contact Andrew Preece from Sunset & Vine on 01865 260200 or email: andrew.preece@sunsetvineapp.com.

Notes to editors

•    Watch Crufts on More4 from 6.30pm – 9pm on 8th – 11th March. This will include all of the highlights from the Arena programme, including the presentation to the Friends for Life winner. Also watch Crufts live on the Crufts YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/Crufts.
•    For the latest updates you can join the Crufts Facebook page at www.facebook.com/crufts or follow the Kennel Club on Twitter.com/KCLovesDogs.
•    The Kennel Club, organiser of Crufts, is the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of dogs. At its heart are programmes and investments in education and health initiatives to help dogs across the UK to live long, healthy, happy lives with responsible owners.
•    Crufts is a unique celebration of happy, healthy dogs and of the loving relationship that they enjoy with their owners. It recognises the varied roles that dogs play in society and highlights the many different disciplines and activities in which dogs are involved.

Phil and Obi
Obi and his handler PC Phil Wells were on the front line during the riots on 6th August in Tottenham, when a large crowd began throwing bottles and bricks at the police. Obi was struck by a brick, but bravely carried on working despite bleeding from his nose. After an assessment, Obi was found to have a fractured skull above the left eye socket.

Phil says: ‘He is my best friend. To see him get injured and to see him on a theatre table - and you’re not sure what has happened and you’re not sure if it’s touch and go - is very emotional. I have had him since he was a puppy, and I spend more time with him than my children and family. When I am at work, he is at work and when I am at home, he is at home.” Obi has now made a full recovery from his injuries and continues to loyally work for the Metropolitan Police, helping to protect the public.

Lora and Libby
Lora was born with a hereditary sight-loss condition, which also affects her mother and two brothers. But losing her sight by the age of five has not affected Lora’s determination, and she is currently in training for a cycling place in the London 2012 Paralympic games.

She is accompanied at all times by her faithful friend and guide dog, Libby, a black Labrador Retriever.

From the moment they met, Libby has rarely left Lora’s side, attending training sessions - where she sits on the track - or waiting for her in the changing rooms if she is out on the road. She even gave Lora the confidence to move away from home to go and study physiotherapy at the University of Birmingham.

Lora says: “Libby is amazing. The first day we met she bounded out of the back of the training van and jumped up to see me, tail wagging – it was as though she knew she was meant to be with me.

“My training schedule at the moment is really busy, and Libby puts in just as many hours as I do, but never complains! Just finding my way to the velodrome without Libby can be a draining experience as all my concentration has to go into navigating my way there safely. When I’m with Libby I don’t need to worry about any of that which means I can focus all my efforts into my cycling. Any medals I win in 2012 I will be sharing with her!”

Karen and Ruby
Karen brought Ruby Roo for her daughter two and a half years ago, but from the moment she got her, Ruby became her dog. Karen says: “After suffering from depression for nearly 25 years, after a childhood of bullying and losing my father at an early age, Ruby has finally given me something to live for.

“Ruby follows me wherever I go and I take her everywhere with me. She has given me the confidence to get out and start meeting people again. I first took Ruby to a local fun dog show with my daughter as I couldn’t go to places alone. I have now met some lovely people and, because of Ruby, I am now studying to be a dog trainer.

“I still find it really hard if I don’t have Ruby with me, and she makes me such a strong person. I have good and bad days, but Ruby is always by my side. She never judges me or tells me to pull myself together, and she is always there for me. I can never repay Ruby for what she has done for me. Ruby is my world and my lifeline, and I truly believe that if it wasn’t for her I’m not sure that I would be here today. I love my Ruby so much.”

Steve and Kizzie
Steve joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17 and progressed through the ranks, working with the Royal Marines and earning the coveted Green Beret in the process.

In 2008, while travelling home from work, Steve was hit by a car and thrown from his motorbike.  He suffered a burst fracture of the neck which irreparably damaged his spinal cord leaving him paralysed from the shoulders down.   His world completely collapsed.

After a long time in hospital, Steve was transferred to Headley Court military rehab unit, where he heard about Canine Partners. A visit was arranged, and that’s when he saw what they could do and how they could help him.

Before Steve met Kizzie, he had lost a lot of weight, had anxiety and breathing difficulties, and was suffering from depression. Coping with the transition from an active lifestyle into a wheelchair was soul-destroying,as he could see the effect it was having on his family. The only interaction he had with his children was to talk or watch them from a wheelchair or bed.

There was an instant bond between Steve and Kizzie and she has given him a new lease of life.  When they go out and about, she helps by getting those difficult lift buttons that are just out of his reach, and he doesn’t have to take a carer with him. In a shop, she takes his wallet and passes it to the cashier.

At home, when he drops something like his phone, remote or keys she instantly picks them up and returns them to his lap.But the real reward he has from Kizzie is the life she has helped him get back, in particular the close relationship with his young children,as he can take them out to play again down the park with Kizzie.