A Staffordshire woman has spoken of her joy at winning a prestigious Crufts prize at the end of an emotional week.
Vicky Wilkins, 22, from Penkridge, was awarded first prize in the 17-24 age class for the Shaun McAlpine award.
The Staffordshire University graduate said she was over the moon with her award win after a difficult emotional week as her grandmother died and her father was ill.
Vicky, a member of the Young Kennel Club, was also then shortlisted in the 17-24 gundog-handling class at Crufts 2014, held at Birmingham NEC on March 9
Vicky and her six-year-old Large Munsterlander Carly were shortlisted to the last eight in the handling before she won her age group for the Shaun McAlpine Outstanding Young Person Award.
She graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in 2012 in Journalism, accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.
Vicky said: “My nan passed away last Monday- it’s been a tough time.
“My dad is really poorly and we didn’t think he would even be able to come to Crufts.
“He can’t feel his legs due to a brain injury and has to use a wheelchair most of the time.
“It’s all been so emotional and he barely made it to Crufts last year.
“He’s been so supportive and having my family be able to see my success and take my award is definitely the highlight of my experience.
“I am very family orientated and it was a blessing to have them there. It was my first time in the handling category so for them to see me do well is amazing.
“I almost didn’t take part in the competition because I couldn’t face people after the last few weeks, but I’m so proud that I did. I can’t thank my family enough.”
Crufts Young Person Award nominees must show they have contributed to the world of dogs in a variety of ways such as raising money or awareness.
Vicky was nominated for a newspaper column she wrote in which she highlighted different sports that dogs were involved in and the good things people were doing.
She built up readership, expanded her column to Facebook and used it as a means of meeting other like-minded people and helping children.
Vicky and her six-year-old Large Munsterlander Carly were shortlisted to the last eight before she picked up the Shaun McAlpine Outstanding Young Person Award.
Vicky believes her time studying journalism at Staffordshire University helped her dog-handling success.
The skills she built up and the confidence she gained have played a huge part in her Crufts experience.
She said: “Before I came to university I wasn’t very confident. I hated talking on the phone and thought I would annoy people.
“The whole team at Staffs encouraged me with what I wanted to do and I was able to attend dog events and build up relationships with people that I saw at this year’s competition.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go into the ring in front of the huge crowd five years ago.”
Vicky works at the National Farmers Union as a writer on their membership magazine, which is based in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.
Vicky’s two dogs Carly and Isla have qualified for life in Crufts and Vicky said she will continue competing.
She added: “I am so grateful for this experience.
“I nearly had a little cry when I heard the loud cheer from the crowd. I’m so overwhelmed.
“If there’s something you want to do, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”