A schoolgirl who has spent much of the past year undergoing gruelling treatment for cancer is now in line for a major award - thanks to her pet dog.
Fourteen-year-old Lauren Ashby has devoted all her spare time to training her beloved cockapoo Percy in dog agility.
And when Lauren was suddenly struck down by Hodgkin Lymphoma in January last year after discovering a lump on her neck and developing a cough, it was little Percy who kept her going. “They have an amazing bond,” said Lauren’s mum Dominique.
Now Lauren - a pupil at Millais School in Horsham - is on a shortlist for a Kennel Club Young Person Of The Year award in recognition of her success in overcoming personal challenges.
She has already been awarded the Kennel Club accolade of Young Braveheart Of The Year. Lauren herself credits 21-month-old Percy with her success.
While undergoing surgery and bouts of chemotherapy, it was training sessions with Percy that she looked forward to. “It kept me going,” she says, adding she doesn’t know how she would have managed to get through the year without the focus that her dog agility training at Billingshurst Dog Training Club provided.
Even now, after discovering last week that her cancer had returned, brave Lauren is determined to carry on and even fitted in an extra training session with Percy before going to hospital on Monday for a new round of treatment.
Lauren first began dog training sessions around three years ago with one of her other dogs, a six-year-old spaniel called Meg. She also has another pet dog, Devon, 10.
But she only began training with Percy just before her shock cancer diagnosis in January last year. Throughout all her harrowing treatment she set herself targets - training for a few minutes a day when she wasn’t in hospital.
“I would be in hospital during the week and at weekends I would be training. It was something to look forward to.”
She even competed while undergoing chemotherapy when her blood levels allowed her to be outside. The chemo affects muscle strength, making even walking difficult, but somehow Lauren still managed to get herself around an agility course - amazing her doctors and nurses.
And even now - after suddenly discovering her cancer had returned during a routine check up last week - Lauren is determined to cram in as much training with Percy as possible.
“She would still love to win the award,” said mum Dominique. “Her determination is still 100 per cent.”
Lauren is one of five young people nominated for the award - all of whom need votes to succeed.
To vote for Lauren - already Young Braveheart Of The Year - go to
Voting closes on March 7 and the winner of the Young Person Of The Year Award will be announced at Crufts on Sunday March 11.
Meanwhile, Lauren is thankful to all those who have helped her so far - including her dog agility trainer, Tracey Masters. “She’s been really supportive and kind to me and even took me to a show when my mum and dad couldn’t.”