Sofia Dobson, from Warrington, Cheshire, was left mostly wheelchair-bound by the devastating stroke. She is also registered blind, has cerebral palsy and suffers from damaging seizures.

But Sofia, who is now eight, has formed such a bond with two-year-old Matilda, the Bichon Frise has just been named the winner of Vets Now’s first Pet of the Year award.

“The pair of them are inseparable and she has helped Sofia in so many ways, even letting us know when she might be about to have a seizure,” said mum-of-three Sarah Dobson, 45, who is Sofia’s full-time carer.

“She’s like a real-life little teddy bear who never leaves her side. The difference in Sofia in the past two years has been incredible.”

An image of a young girl cuddling her pet dog
Matilda, the Bichon Frise has just been named the winner of Vets Now's first Pet of the Year award. ©Vets Now

Sofia became seriously ill soon after she was born, and the family were told she was unlikely to survive. An MRI showed she’d had a massive stroke and she was left was severe disabilities.

Doctors said she would probably not be able to talk, or walk, at all but she has proved them wrong and has also been an inspiration for others by leading charity fundraising events.

While Sofia is able to attend a mainstream school, it was felt a support dog could help with her complex sensory issues. After a lengthy search for the right breed, the family settled on a Bichon Frise and were won over by Matilda’s laid-back nature when they got her as a puppy.

“Sofia struggles to make friends and communicate with other children,” said Sarah, who is also studying forensic psychology. “So, we thought a dog would be perfect for companionship and improving her confidence.

An image of a young girl walking her pet dog in a field
Matilda helps Sofia improve her confidence. ©Vets Now

“Because of the stroke, she doesn’t have the ability to calm down and control herself when she gets frustrated and blows off steam.

“But when she has a meltdown, Matilda instinctively puts her head on Sofia’s lap and that calms her instantly.

“She also somehow senses when Sofia is going to have a seizure and goes over and makes a fuss to alert us. Like everything else, we’ve never taught her that, she just seems to know what to do.

“Matilda really is Sofia’s best friend and comes with us when we go to pick her up from school. She’ll sit at Sofia’s side while she reads a book and it’s just so lovely to see the bond they have.”

The family are thrilled by the Pet of the Year prize from emergency vets, Vets Now, which includes a £500 voucher to take a pet-friendly break.

An image of a family and pet dog together for a picture in a field
The family are thrilled by the Pet of the Year prize, which includes a £500 voucher to take a pet-friendly break. ©Vets Now

And Sofia is passionate about continuing to raise funds and awareness for childhood stroke.

“She loves being involved in charity walks for the Stroke Association, with Matilda of course,” said Sarah. “She just amazing and always says she wants to help other children like her.”

Dave Leicester, who is responsible for a team of experienced vets at the Video Vets Now service, said: “After a tumultuous two years, we wanted to celebrate the important role pets have played for so many families and individuals across the UK.

“It’s a chance to shine a light on pets who have overcome injuries, or other challenges, and provided their owners with overwhelming comfort and support.”

Read more about our two Pet of the Year runners-up, Theo the cat, whose fighting spirit stood out to the Vets Now team and brave rescue dog Gypsy.