Lucy Watts looking back on her Crufts award 2014
Lucy had her dream in 2011 when she met Paul O'Grady. Since then Lucy has won the Friends for Life award at Crufts (2014) and been awarded an MBE (2016) for for services to young people with disabilities
Crufts; it’s the highlight of any dog lover’s year. However, Crufts has a particularly special meaning for our family. I will share our story and you’ll come to understand why.
I’m Lucy, 24 and have a life-limiting condition. I was born with health problems, a number of them, that deteriorated throughout childhood, but these problems went undiagnosed, and despite them I lived a relatively normal life. That was until I became disabled and seriously ill at the age of 14. Since then, my condition has rapidly deteriorated, it will shorten my lifespan - I have already outlived my prognosis - and will continue to get worse, but I live a great life despite it.
I spent the first five years of my illness bed bound, trapped in the four walls of my bedroom except for hospital appointments which were a challenging undertaking. I didn’t have the opportunity to socialise with people my own age and on the rare occasions I went out, I was invisible, no one spoke to me or acknowledged my existence aside from staring from afar. Then, in March 2013, a Working Cocker Spaniel called Molly came into my life. We’d had a dog who’d died and we decided to get another dog, found Molly’s litter, and went to see them. When Molly, the final puppy, was placed on my lap, she marched up my chest and licked my face; I like to think she chose me. We named her Molly and we brought her home a week later. Boy has she make her mark on my life. Suddenly, after getting Molly, when I went out I went from invisible and ignored to suddenly being the centre of attention, people speaking to me about my beautiful dog. I rapidly gained in confidence. I also regained my life, Molly forcing me to work hard with physiotherapy, going from bed bound to going out every day to walk her, as I didn’t want to miss her puppyhood. Then when Molly was 10 months old, she was accepted onto a scheme that supports disabled people to train their pet dog to become their Assistance Dog, Dog Assistance in Disability (Dog A.I.D.), and she finally qualified in September 2016, after almost 3 years, due to periods where I was too unwell to train her.
Molly has transformed my life. From bed bound to getting out every day, from shy to giving speeches in front of hundreds of people, from no life to an amazing life. I certainly wouldn’t be doing my voluntary work nor have received an MBE at 22 without Molly.
For how she transformed my life, Molly and I were nominated for the Friends for Life competition at Crufts and were selected as finalists for 2014. This meant creating a film, visiting the Kennel Club headquarters to launch the competition and lots of media work. People had to vote for us and we had so much support. We had to travel up to Crufts for the weekend in order for the Friends for Life press and media activities and then the ceremony on the Sunday evening, televised live, before Best in Show. Saturday we just enjoyed Crufts but Sunday it was all about rehearsals, media and then the ceremony itself. We went into the green room before the ceremony and the finalists relaxed and got to know each other, I still keep in touch with two of them, until it was our turn, waiting in the wings whilst Mary Ray and Richard Curtis did their heelwork to music performance. Then we went in. Our videos were played and then Clare Balding interviewed each of us. At this time I thought we had absolutely no chance of winning. Then the envelope was opened, “And the winner is…..Lucy and Molly!”. If you watch the video back, there’s a delay between the announcement and me actually realising they’d said our names. We were interviewed by Clare once more, and then it was over, bar some press and we were treated by celebrities on the way back to the hotel. It was a magical experience, one I will never forget. Molly was rewarded for the monumental impact she has had on my life.
In 2016, Molly went on to be awarded the “animal OBE”, the PDSA Order of Merit, for her devotion to duty. She’s certainly a decorated dog.
I watch Friends for Life every year, have done since it started, but never did I think my dog would win, I still can’t believe it now. Crufts hold such special memories for us. A year after Crufts, my mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour, then suffered a brain haemorrhage and a stroke after the operation to remove it, then developed epilepsy. Crufts was a big memory of the “life before”, as our lives will never be what they were before., despite mum making an amazing recovery. It’ll never be the same. However, we have the incredible memory of Crufts to hold onto. Memories to treasure.
Molly is more than just a dog. She’s more than just my Assistance Dog. She’s transformed my life, and she’s saved it too. I will never be able to repay her for what she’s given me.