An inspirational dog who helps terminally ill children and their families through their last moments together, and taught a suicidal man to love and live again, has been awarded the Blue Cross Medal for her heroism.
Bonnie, a Staffordshire bull terrier-whippet cross, visited Lucy Sutton at a hospice before she sadly passed away from cancer last year, aged just seven years old.
Lucy’s dad, Tony Sutton, said: “For one hour on the day that Bonnie visited we got our daughter back.
“They formed in that brief moment a special bond, and the smile Lucy had on her face and the care she showed Bonnie made me a very proud father.”
Bonnie’s owner, Vicky Burn, will receive the award in Lucy’s memory.
Vicky said: “It was wonderful to see Lucy with Bonnie and how she lit up around her - her parents said Bonnie made Lucy smile and gave them their daughter back.
“Being able to make a difference at such a difficult time epitomises what Bonnie does best and she will be accepting her Blue Cross Medal in Lucy’s memory.”
Despite Bonnie’s tough start to life, she has worked tirelessly to help hundreds of vulnerable people in her local community in Grimsby, Lincolnshire.
By the time the brindle rescue dog was adopted by Vicky, she had already had at least seven homes.
She was very timid and terrified of most things, but gradually grew in confidence in her new home and after six months she passed the test to become a Pets As Therapy dog.
Vicky says: “I only wish we had found Bonnie sooner to give her a better start in life. She has spent the last seven years with us always trying her best and trying to please and is so very special.
“She is my best friend and the best work mate I could ever have, we have complete trust in one another and give each other confidence. She is an absolute angel and giving her a home is the best thing I have ever done.”
Bonnie and Vicky also made a huge difference to the patients of the mental health services department at their local hospital, in particular helping one gentleman who was suicidal.
After he was discharged, the man contacted Vicky to tell her of the positive impact Bonnie’s visits had had on him.
Vicky explained: “He wrote to me afterwards and said Bonnie saved his life; she stopped him having suicidal thoughts and she made him feel worthwhile again.
“When he was discharged from hospital, he moved into the residential home that I visit with Bonnie. The day we walked in, he shouted, ‘That’s the dog that saved my life!’ to everybody.
“He wrote a beautiful letter that he wanted me to share with everybody, saying how a dog can change your life and teach you to live and love again.”
Bonnie, now aged 14, is officially retired, but continues to help others; working on a one-to-one basis with severely dog-phobic children to help them overcome their fears. She is also still on call in case she is needed for end-of-life visits at her local hospice, where staff describe her work as ‘inspirational’.
One formally dog-phobic young lady, Kate Bentham, has enjoyed visits from Bonnie for the last six years.
Bonnie has helped 15-year-old Kate overcome her fear of dogs and to build her confidence by helping Kate with her speech and mobility. Kate is able to speak without stuttering when Bonnie is with her.
Kate said: “I was very nervous of dogs as they make me jump if they bark and I lose my balance and fall over, as I have balance and coordination problems, as well as bubbly speech. That frightens me, so before Bonnie I wouldn’t go near dogs, but Bonnie has helped me and now I love saying hello to dogs!
“Bonnie is very gentle and never jumps up at me or licks me. She just comes and comforts me.”
Before her retirement, Bonnie was also a regular visitor to her local care home. Many of the residents suffer from dementia and can become confused and upset, but a visit from Bonnie calmed the most distressed patients and brought smiles to their faces.
Although regular visits to the care home are a bit much for Bonnie now that she is getting on in years, she is still called in from time to time to help the carers to calm down residents who are particularly upset.
Several of the residents remembered Bonnie straight away when she popped in to show them her Medal, even though it was nearly a year since her last visit.
The judging panel for this year’s Blue Cross medal included pet-loving actress Caroline Quentin. She said: “I truly believe that dogs are wonderful companions, not just during our lives but importantly at the end of a life too. They make such a difference for those facing death and for those left behind to deal with grief.
“Choosing a winner for the Blue Cross Medal wasn’t easy, but Bonnie’s story really shone through. It’s just incredible how many lives she’s touched - she’s a wonderful example of the happiness pets can bring us. Well done, Bonnie!”
Two runners-up also received special commendations from the medal judges: Barnabus, an assistance dog who has given his young, disabled owner her independence back, completely transforming her life, and medical detection dog Willow, the world’s first airborne nut detection dog, who can alert his owner with severe allergies of nut traces in any room.
The Blue Cross Medal honours pets that have done something brave, life changing partnerships, assistance animals or serving or working animals.