Lincolnshire Pride

Freya & Echo: A Girl’s Best Friend

This month we offer our congratulations and best wishes to Freya and Echo, who competed at this year’s Crufts and received rapturous applause in the Best Friend Category of the Hero Dog Awards

BeatMedia/The Kennel Club
BeatMedia/The Kennel Club

Diamonds are supposed to be a girl’s best friend, whilst dogs were always referred to as man’s best friend. Disproving both of those adages though is the enduring and touching friendship shared by Freya and Echo Harris from Horncastle, who recently competed in Crufts.

Proud parents Gemma and Rikki Harris moved to Lincolnshire from Essex just after Covid and enjoyed watching nine-year old Freya and Australian Shepherd Echo bounding happily around the ring at Crufts, back in March, for the second time. 

More importantly though, it marked the second anniversary of Freya’s ongoing recovery from Wilm’s Tumor, a rare form of a paediatric nephroblastomic cancer that effects the kidneys. 

“Freya and Echo are besotted with one another and share lots of licks and cuddles, lots of walks,” says Gemma. “We’ve always had dogs in the family, and we love supporting rarer breeds, like our Maremmano-Abruzzese, ‘Albus’ and our Alaskan Malamute, ‘Fenris.’”

“We’d always admired Australian Shepherds. They’re a comparatively rare breed but still at Crufts there were nearly 200 examples of the breed taking part. Freya really loves them too, and once described them as her ‘dream breed.’ When she was poorly, she lost a lot of weight and couldn’t walk, so a new puppy would be a real incentive for her recovery, encouraging her to walk and to regain her mobility.”

“There are waiting lists for the breed but happily the stars aligned and we found a puppy in Wales. We fell in love with Echo immediately, and the friendship between them has quickly grown to be so strong.”

Back in December 2021, just after her seventh birthday, Freya was poorly, with symptoms of sickness and exhaustion that were initially thought to be anxiety as a result of the family moving to Lincolnshire, with Covid restrictions still in place, a nervous population  and Freya starting a new school. 

Gemma wasn’t convinced though, citing mum’s instinct, and insisted on tests. She received a call early one morning insisting that Freya be admitted to hospital in Nottingham to begin treatment for a stage four cancer, which had also spread to her lungs, liver and inferior vena cava.

In January 2022 Freya’s chemotherapy had the rare side effect of causing organ failure, so she was given a different, more aggressive form of treatment, but one that didn’t cause such damaging side effects to Freya’s organs. The youngster also had surgery to remove one of her kidneys and received radiotherapy too.

It was undoubtedly an awful time for the family and by the summer Freya had lost much of her strength and her ability to walk. 

In September 2022, Freya was introduced to Echo who offered a new incentive to regain her mobility, and the youngster would always make the effort to walk her puppy, even when it was a real effort to do so. Soon the two had formed an inseparable bond and a real friendship, and even competed in some local dog shows together.

“Freya said that it would be her dream to show Echo at Crufts and we did think that would be something to aim for in a few years. As a family we watch Crufts every year, enjoying four whole days of TV, on the sofa cuddled up with our own dogs… we call it Cruftsmas!”

“In January 2023 we were thrilled when Freya and Echo were placed in a Championship show here in the county, which meant we could enter Crufts too.”

“Freya didn’t realise that winning at Championship level meant she qualified to enter, we told her on the way back to the car and she absolutely screamed with delight. In March 2023 we headed off to Birmingham, arriving at about 7.30 in the morning with a smart looking Echo.”

Crufts was first held in 1891 and this year 21,701 dogs competed across 222 different breeds. The event is held across five halls and 36 rings, spanning 25 acres. 

The three most common breeds in the competition are Golden Retrievers (538 entrants); Labradors (519 entrants) and Cocker Spaniels (421 entrants). There were 195 Australian Shepherds like Echo competing… the rarest breeds, incidentally, are the Belgian Shepherd Dog (Malinois) and Turkish Kangal Dog with three entries each.

“Echo always receives lots of attention, especially when she’s been pampered and well-groomed but the reality is that she’s a complete swamp dog. Frustratingly, she’s attracted to every bit of mud, every dirty puddle… but she’s so lovely you have to forgive her for that!”

“It does mean that you have to watch her very diligently just before a show, but when she’s nicely presented and freshly groomed she’s very pretty,” says Gemma. “Freya, too, needed to learn how to be a Junior Handler, as there are lots of rules like facing the judge and not standing between the judge and the dog.”

“Freya was great though; very nervous before she went into the ring, with a few tears as she said she felt a little overwhelmed and didn’t want to let anyone down, especially the ‘Warriors,’ the other youngsters she’s befriended who are also fighting cancer.”

“She could never have let us down though. She was wonderful in the ring, as was Echo. The two of them together were fantastic and some of the other participants really took Freya under their wing.”

This year, too, Freya and Echo returned to Crufts, this time nominated to appear in the competition’s prestigious Hero Dog Award 2024. The two were entered into the Best Friends category, alongside four other shortlisted finalists the eventual winner voted for by the public.

The award takes place just before the event’s Best in Show event and this year it was the turn of search and rescue dog, a four-year old Belgian Malinois named Vesper, to take the title. However when Freya and Echo returned to the ring, both received a huge round of applause so rapturous that took even the TV presenters by surprise.

“They’d never seen anything like it,” says Gemma. “The surrounding rings were all applauding and clapping and both Freya and Echo looked absolutely delighted.”

“Of course we’re really proud of them both. Freya is brave and brilliant, and Echo is a most wonderful fluffy ball of ego who just loves all of the attention and the pampering… she very clearly loves the show ring!”

“Freya is keen to show Echo at other events this year, and has recently completed her treatment so although we can’t say that she’s in remission, her scans are she’s showing clear and she will continue to have scans every three months.”

The absolutely lovely bond between Freya and Echo is evidence of just how much love and support a dog can provide and how important friendship is. We’re thrilled by the success that both enjoyed at this year’s Crufts and look forward to seeing them back in the ring next year, and competing in championship level events in the county this summer too.

Crufts is available to watch again at The family wants to recognise the work of PASIC (Parents Association for Seriously Ill Children,, Young Lives vs Cancer ( and Kidney Cancer UK