FOR 17-year-old Norwich student Elizabeth Garretty-Bennett, having her pet Border Collie to lean on really was a matter of life and death.

So much so that she credits the presence of four-year-old Charlie as the reason she is here to tell her incredible story.

Having been admitted into hospital and inpatient facilities with complex mental health issues over the past few years, Elizabeth admits that few people realise the impact dogs can have beyond those with physical conditions.

The perceptiveness of dogs is long established, particularly with conditions such as anxiety, autism, epilepsy as well as aiding those with visual or hearing impairments. 

But when it comes to Elizabeth and Charlie, that knowledge of when she needed to be comforted is not something that can be overstated.

“It sounds a bit over the top, but he genuinely saved my life,” she explained.

“I went through a very bad period of mental health issues and I was admitted into hospital several times as an inpatient for quite a long time.

“I think it’s been about a total of a year so far in inpatient facilities and he was the reason I wanted to go home.”

“Before I was in hospital, I was in bedrest and he just knew. He would often pick it up before I had that something was going to happen, or if my heartrate was going to drop.

“He literally saved my life over and over again.”

Elizabeth’s indelible bond with dogs stretches back to childhood, where she was a part of Crufts’ Young Kennel Club and attended the event as a spectator.

Only a family holiday denied her the chance to attend a couple of years ago in the agility where, with another dog, she qualified for the event.

Indeed, it was while competing in agility six or seven years ago, where she regularly encountered Border Collies, that she was able to convince her parents to let her have one for herself.

That journey has now seen Charlie nominated for but not make the final short-list for The Kennel Club’s Friends for Life award in the child’s hero category, celebrating a pet dog who has seen its owner through the hardest times as well as the happiest.

The Kennel Club wants to celebrate and share the amazing stories of how dogs give back to us every day of our lives. There will be one winner per category, decided through a public vote, and the overall winner will be announced in the NEC arena at Crufts 2019. 

The winner will also be awarded £5,000 and the runners up will each receive – for their nominated canine charity – £1,000 from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust – helping to make a difference for dogs.

“There’s a lot of things to do with physical illness – dogs can pick up things, cancerous things, if people are going to have a seizure – but it is just not really well known at all with anything to do with mental health,” Elizabeth added.

“It can have such a massive impact on your life, just having that distraction and not thinking about other things that are wrong with everything that was happening. 

“It wasn’t just for me that it helped, he helps so many of the other people here just by coming and letting people pet him and doing something that wasn’t all focused around medication, therapies and trying to get better. That would be their positive for the week.”