Derbyshire teen and her Dalmatian Hero set to appear at Crufts 2024 dog show

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A Derbyshire teenager and her beloved pet Dalmatian, Hero, are heading to the prestigious Crufts dog show next month.

When gentle encouragement led Tilly Crookes to enter and compete in the world of dog showing, she could never have imagined that it would be the start of a lifelong passion.

Seven years later, the 17-year-old from Alfreton can trace her passion for dog shows to a fateful decision to take in Dolly, her beloved Dalmatian, from owner and breeder Margaret Kenbury.

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And while Crookes initially had no interest in dog shows, it was the words of Kenbury that convinced her otherwise, and since then she has never looked back.

Tilly, pictured here with her Dalmatian Hero. 
Credit: Beat Media GroupTilly, pictured here with her Dalmatian Hero. 
Credit: Beat Media Group
Tilly, pictured here with her Dalmatian Hero. Credit: Beat Media Group

She said: ‘‘When we first got Dolly she was a pet and we had no interest in going into the show world or anything.

‘‘But then her breeder said ‘she’s show quality, I’d really enjoy it if you give it a go, even if that’s just coming to ringcraft’.

‘‘She put us in touch with Debbie Carey and Cromford Canine Society, which we went to more for socialising Dolly and I kind of got really into it and decided, you know what, I just want to have a go at showing her.

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‘‘And she was quite nervous which is why we don’t show her anymore but she definitely sparked my interest in the show world.

Tilly said that Hero had “really improved how I see life.”
Credit: Beat Media GroupTilly said that Hero had “really improved how I see life.”
Credit: Beat Media Group
Tilly said that Hero had “really improved how I see life.” Credit: Beat Media Group

‘‘So it’s all come down to just putting myself outside my comfort zone and doing something I never thought or considered.

‘‘We went to loads of shows with her and she’s been to Crufts three times and placed VHC and third in two different categories.’’

Though Dolly no longer competes, her son Hero now carries on her legacy.

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Tilly said: ‘‘When lockdown hit, we had her first ever litter, which is where we got Hero.

‘‘He then started showing, about June time, and we qualified at our first ever show with third in minor puppy and it’s all gone on from there. He loves the attention, he absolutely loves it

‘‘He would just sit there, he likes talking to people, he’s just a proper jester, he likes making people laugh and he’s just so fun.”

For Tilly, her favourite moment so far came at Crufts 2021, and she added: ‘‘Hero had never won a first before, and we went into that ring and I got shortlisted and that’s when we got put down to the final five.

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‘‘I was like ‘that’s it, I'm getting fifth,’ and I was so dead-set thinking ‘that’s amazing,’ and then I got pulled out at first and I’m actually surprised I didn’t start crying.”

Aside from the thrill of competition and winning, Tilly also attributes her passion for dog showing to the community around it.

She said: ‘‘For us, it’s getting to meet new people who have similar interests and just being able to meet so many different people of different cultures, different backgrounds and everything.

‘‘I absolutely love talking to everyone, I’ll happily talk to anyone if that’s people in the breed, in other breeds, people interested in the Dalmatians and everything.

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‘‘I was at a show at the weekend and there was a couple there thinking of rehoming a Dalmatian and I just took them round and made sure they knew the difference in how different temperaments come into the Dalmatian breed as well so I absolutely love the social side of the showring as well.”

Ahead of the competition next month, Tilly expressed her gratitude to her canine companions.

She said: ‘‘To me, they are everything, they’ve definitely brought me out of my comfort zone and really improved how I see life.

‘‘Going out walking with them is just such an easy way to clear your mind and get a fresh outlook on the day.’’

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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 7-10 March 2024 at the NEC Birmingham. Viewers can follow all the action and highlights on Channel 4, and for further information and tickets visit crufts.org.uk

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