THEY SAY dog is a man’s best friend. But to Bristolian Sarah Hendy, her Labrador Cheese is so much more.

The two enjoy the most remarkable of bonds, with Cheese acting as her mental health assistance dog and giving her strength as she fights incurable leukaemia.

Before getting the playful pooch in 2014, the 47-year-old, from Bishopsworth, did not leave her house unaided for five years.

Her confidence has since come on in leaps and bounds thanks to five-year-old Cheese, and now the pair have been nominated but narrowly missed out on the final short-list for a prestigious award which could land them a visit to Crufts, the world’s biggest dog show.

Fittingly, the duo are in the man’s best friend category of the Friends for Life competition, and as Sarah explains, it’s clear to see exactly why.

“He is an absolute angel – we brought him home when he was seven weeks, and I thought it would take him a while to bond with us, but within 20 minutes he was coming to sit with us,” she said.

“He’s so chilled and laid back. If I was having a particularly bad day, he just wouldn’t leave my side. If I cried, he’d come and lick my face and he always knew when I was having a bad day.

“He was so protective, if my mum visited and gave me a hug, he would try and push her out of the way!

“I was diagnosed with leukaemia in April 2017, and that’s where he came into his own – he was my mental health dog, that’s what he’s trained for.

“But there were days where I was just so weak I couldn’t do things, and he learned to pick things up for me. He just never left my side and he came into hospital with me every time I had to have chemo. He was always there.

“And that year, he made so many people happy, even if people didn’t make a fuss of him, they’d just look at him and say, ‘he’s lovely’.

“All the staff and patients at the hospital loved him and he was fabulous.

“I always had worries about telling people that Cheese was my mental health assistance dog but since getting cancer I really don’t care who knows!”

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. 

The unique name given to the Golden Labrador came about after a discussion with a friend – and followed a trend Sarah, who has a son, 22-year-old Jacob and a 20-year-old daughter, Sophie, had established with previous pets.

“We had a dog called Flora and a chocolate Labrador called Bran – he was called Branston Pickle more than Bran a lot of the time,” said Sarah, who is a regular at Crufts on her favourite Gundog Day.

“I lost those two and then I knew I was going to have a yellow Labrador pup as my next dog, so we were having a silly conversation about yellow foods.

“We said ‘cheese’ and laughed about it because we really liked it. It’s a difficult name to say without smiling, so it’s quite difficult to tell him off!

“I do tend to get more dogs run up to me though because some dog owners use it as a recall word!”