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A mother tells how her daughter, battling stage 4 cancer, qualified for Crufts with her beloved dog


An eight-year-old girl battling Stage 4 cancer is set to capture the hearts of dog lovers when she and her best friend Echo compete at Crufts

Freya Harris, from Horncastle in Lincolnshire, was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, a form of kidney cancer that affects around 80 children in the UK each year. 

Her mother Gemma said that Australian Shepherd Echo never leaves her daughter’s side, giving her a reason to keep going during treatment.

‘I know that people use the term soulmate or the heart dog or whatever, but Echo has just clicked with Freya. She knows that’s her mum,’ Gemma said. 

When asked what it’s like having Echo around, Freya revealed: ‘Literally amazing. So it depends on my mood, so if I am having a bad day, she will have a bad day with me, she will snuggle up on the sofa with me. 

‘If I go and play out, she will go play with me. It depends on my mood, that is her mood.’ 

Eight-year-old Freya and her Australian Shepherd Echo are heading to Birmingham to compete at Crufts

Freya’s family received the devastating news she had cancer in December 2021 after first becoming ill in October 2021.

Gemma, explained: ‘We didn’t know the extent of it yet or how bad it was it was and then it was confirmed stage four, she had her kidney removed, had lung surgery on both lungs, chemo treatment for an entire year so far and radiotherapy, you name it.’

Gemma continued: ‘She’s had a very rare side effect from the chemo as well, which caused internal organ failure, which luckily, she managed to pull through.’

What has got Freya through her traumatic ordeal, where she came face-to-face with death, is her Australian Shepherd dog, Echo. 

Freya’s love of dogs started at an early age, when she would help her mum who used to work as a dog walker, and the two would always sit down to watch Crufts together. 

Gemma and Freya’s father decided to buy puppy Echo to encourage their daughter to go for walks after having to spend weeks at a time in hospital. 

Eight-year-old Freya and her Australian Shepherd Echo are heading to Birmingham to compete at Crufts

Eight-year-old Freya and her Australian Shepherd Echo are heading to Birmingham to compete at Crufts 

Freya's parents bought Echo to encourage the youngster to get outside and go for walks after spending weeks in hospital

Freya’s parents bought Echo to encourage the youngster to get outside and go for walks after spending weeks in hospital 

Freya, who has stage four cancer, loved Crufts from a young age and has wanted to compete at the prestigious dog competition

Freya, who has stage four cancer, loved Crufts from a young age and has wanted to compete at the prestigious dog competition 

Echo has become Freya's best friend and when she is down, Freya will come and give her cuddles all day long

Echo has become Freya’s best friend and when she is down, Freya will come and give her cuddles all day long 

Freya's mum Gemma (pictured) explained how the day the pair qualified for Crufts was a difficult one

Freya’s mum Gemma (pictured) explained how the day the pair qualified for Crufts was a difficult one 

The day before the qualifiers Freya had a grueling six hour transfusion but was determined that she and Echo would make it

The day before the qualifiers Freya had a grueling six hour transfusion but was determined that she and Echo would make it 

Freya wanted a dog that she could show at Crufts after she started watching the prestigious dog show on television from a very young age, and decided that one day she would try and compete herself. 

The eight-year-old said that she wanted an Australian Shepherd because ‘they are cute, they are a good show dog, they are everything you need.’

She continued: ‘One of the breeders we bought from once, they were selling Australian Shepherds and Echo was the last one in the litter, so we just chose her.’  

Since Echo has come home to live with the Harris’ she has become part of the family and Freya has come on leaps and bounds.

Gemma added: ‘It has helped [Freya] get out nearly every day walking, it has given [her] a goal to focus on, and doing things [she] has never done before.’

Her other said it was incredible to watch her daughter thrive, doing things ‘she has only ever seen on TV’ with Echo.  

‘All of a sudden you are up and doing it a few days after chemo every week,’ she said. 

Gemma has revealed how Echo has given her daughter a focus and encouragement to do something she's never done before

Gemma has revealed how Echo has given her daughter a focus and encouragement to do something she’s never done before 

Gemma revealed how her daughter has been through a challenging time after chemo therapy shut down her organs

Gemma revealed how her daughter has been through a challenging time after chemo therapy shut down her organs 

Since getting Echo, Freya has been working towards showing her at Crufts and incredibly in their first competition together the best-friends qualified for Crufts. 

However, the pair nearly didn’t make it through qualifiers after Freya had a around of intensive treatment the night before. 

Gemma explained: ‘She had to have a massive transfusion that lasted for about six hours.

‘We didn’t get back home until the early hours of the morning, which was the same day as the [Crufts qualifier] show, but she was adamant, “We’re not staying at home, we’re going.” 

‘It was an absolute whirlwind of a day, she was just absolutely buzzing to get in the ring, and it wasn’t until after the show finished that we told her that she had qualified for Crufts. 

‘That’s when she was screaming and jumping around with joy and nearly crying with how excited she was.’

Both Echo and Freya have loved honing their craft together and training for the huge dog show at Birmingham's NEC

Both Echo and Freya have loved honing their craft together and training for the huge dog show at Birmingham’s NEC

Gemma said that Echo is un-phased by Freya's condition and doesn't pay any attention to her tubes

Gemma said that Echo is un-phased by Freya’s condition and doesn’t pay any attention to her tubes 

When starting on their showing journey,the Harris family came across a ring craft class for Freya that catered specifically for those with additional needs

When starting on their showing journey,the Harris family came across a ring craft class for Freya that catered specifically for those with additional needs

Freya is excited to be taking part in Crufts and to be surrounded by thousands of dogs and dog lovers

Freya is excited to be taking part in Crufts and to be surrounded by thousands of dogs and dog lovers

The inseparable duo have been blazing a showing trail and hope to continue inspiring the community when they walk onto the world’s most famous dog stage at the NEC Birmingham on Crufts’ second day.  

Gemma said: ‘Bad days, she’s there. Good days, she’s there. She’s never fussed with her tubes or anything. 

What is a Wilms’ tumour?

The disease is a form of kidney cancer that affects around 70 children in the UK each year.

It most often develops in youngsters below the age of five.

Wilms’ tumours, also known as nephroblastomas, begins to develop when a baby is still growing inside their mother.

However, it may not cause any symptoms until a few years after the child is born.

They are most common in children under five but can appear in older children and adults on rare occasions.

Wilms’ tumours usually only affect one kidney (unilateral) but in about seven out of every 100 children it can affect both (bilateral).

Most Wilms’ tumours are quite large when they are found – very often much bigger than the kidney itself.

Fortunately, most of them have not spread to other parts of the body.

The most common symptom is a swelling in the abdomen, which is usually painless.

Occasionally, the tumour may bleed slightly and this can cause irritation in the area of the kidney, which may be painful.

Children with the condition may have blood in their urine, or their blood pressure may be raised.

The child may also have a fever, upset stomach, weight loss or a lack of appetite.

‘She understands what’s out of bounds with the NG tube or wigglies as we call them that come out of her belly, she’s brilliant and she has never looked at them.’ 

It’s not only emotional support that Echo provides for Freya but physical. 

As Gemma continued: ‘Echo has definitely encouraged her to get out. Freya had issues with her muscles when she was hospitalised for so long, her muscles shortened. 

‘And then the chemo can cause things like drop foot and so Freya has suffered with that.

‘She has to wear splints to try and help her to walk, which was hard for her but Echo is the reason she would get every day and do it. 

‘She’s got the responsibility of feeding, watering, brushing, everything, so it’s a reason to get out of bed and get home from treatment and look forward to the future.’ 

When starting on their showing journey, the Harris family came across a ring craft class for Freya that catered specifically for those with additional needs.

‘People were very welcoming, they accommodated what her requirements were, they just accommodated whatever she needed to be done,’ Gemma added. 

‘We are really grateful for that because it has let her follow her dream. She’s following it and they guided her in the right direction as to what she needs to do, so they’ve taken us under their wing.’

Both Echo and Freya have loved honing their craft and training for the huge dog show. 

Gemma added: ‘Echo really enjoys whatever she’s doing with Freya. So it doesn’t matter if she was curling up on the sofa or showing off, she loves it. 

‘She loves the attention that she gets from it. She’s a working breed anyway so she needs that extra stimulation as it goes to keep her happy, so she loves it.’

Freya is excited to be taking part in Crufts and to be surrounded by thousands of dogs and dog lovers.

When it comes to the competition the youngster has a positive outlook.

Freya said: ‘It’s all about the participation. It doesn’t matter if you win – it is just about trying.’

  • Crufts, run by The Kennel Club, is a unique celebration of happy, healthy dogs and of the loving relationship that they enjoy with their owners. Crufts is held from 9-12 March 2023 at the NEC Birmingham. Viewers can follow all the action and highlights on Channel 4 and More4, and for further information and tickets visit crufts.org.uk



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