Fleur has nearly died three times in her six-year life. After being abandoned, the border collie cross was caught by dog catchers in the Romanian capital Bucharest in 2014 and taken to a shelter, where a spaying operation went drastically wrong. She was sewn up with string and her intestines were severely damaged, leaving her barely breathing.
Animal rescue organisation Valgrays brought her over to the UK a year later to live with Wendy Morris, who already had two rescue dogs from the charity. Three weeks later Fleur collapsed and had to have more than 60cm of her intestine removed. The vet suggested she was unlikely to survive and should be put down.
But Wendy found a specialist vet at the Royal Veterinary College in London and set up a fundraising page on Facebook to get the £10,000 needed for Fleur’s treatment. After a five-hour operation involving three vets, and a fortnight in intensive care, Fleur went home to Hampshire.
So how did a dog that was so abused and unwell make it into the final of Britain’s biggest dog show? Fleur will be shown off to judges in the main arena at Crufts, surrounded by glossy, purebred pooches. Except that she’s actually competing in an offshoot of the dog show called Scruffts, which began in earnest in 2001, giving everyday dogs and their owners a chance to shine. While Crufts is a parade of Dandie Dinmont terriers and Afghan hounds bred to very high standards, Scruffts is full of loveable mongrels like those you see in your local park.
Fleur has already won the Best Rescue category and is now vying for the ultimate Scruffts prize: Family Crossbreed of the Year. She’ll be going up against the winners in the categories Child’s Best Friend, Good Citizen Dog Scheme, Most Handsome Dog, Prettiest Bitch and Golden Oldie.
“This is the opportunity for dogs who don’t go to normal competitions to get some recognition,” says one of this year’s judges, David Guy. “Scruffts puts a real emphasis on the fact that despite not being pedigree, a dog can be brilliant as a member of the family. The most important thing is that the animal is healthy, happy and in super condition. It’s not just about appearance, it’s about the overall health of the animal. There’s room for everybody in the dog world.”
As a documentary about the competition airs this week, it’s clear TV is having a dog moment, with a swathe of shows about our most popular pets begging for our attention on screen.
Over the years, Crufts has often been overshadowed by controversy over how pedigree dogs are being bred, with accusations that breeders prioritise looks over the health of the dog. So it’s tempting to see Scruffts as an anti- dote to this, a competition where happy, healthy dogs rule. In reality, crossbreeds can have similar health problems to pedigree dogs – but Scruffts doesn’t focus on breeds, which means the dogs that enter are ordinary mongrels of all types, ages, shapes and sizes.
So how does Crufts feel about its scruffier cousin? “The dog-show world does have a
slightly mixed view of it,” says Caroline Kisko, Secretary of the Kennel Club. “Those who are more purist will have the view that perhaps they shouldn’t be there, but there will be plenty of others who own scruffy dogs themselves or simply love all dogs and think it’s a great idea to have them there.”
For Fleur’s owner, the very existence of Scruffts was a joyful surprise. “When I found out I thought it would be fun and a lovely way to bond even more with Fleur,” says Morris. “At the semi-finals, she walked on, waggy tailed, and sat there very calmly. She even let the judges stroke her tummy, which she loved, and she was put through to the final.”
Despite such a traumatic start to life, Fleur is an affectionate and trusting pet. “Considering what she’s been through, she’s amazingly playful,” says Morris. “There are occasions where there’s a loud noise or a really tall man might approach her and she’ll cower – but I can read those clues. She’s brilliant with my grandchildren.
“Fleur made it because she’s a dog that wasn’t willing to die and is now walking, running and playing like any normal family dog. She was this dirty, yellow, scared, unwell animal and now look at her – she’s in the final. It just goes to show: never give up on a dog.”
Scruffts is on tonight at 8pm on Channel 4