The enchanting tale of Northern Ireland's top dog Becky
As a pup Becky's life was saved by passers-by after she was cruelly dumped in the Lagan. Since then she has repaid their kindness many times as a true friend to the elderly.
Meet Northern Ireland's top dog - the adorable Becky. The lovable mongrel from Bangor has just beaten some very tough canine competition to be voted the bravest and most courageous dog in the province and scoop the coveted title, Top Dog.
Life could have been so very different for 10-year-old Becky, who as a puppy was bundled into a sack and dumped into the River Lagan with her brothers and sisters.
If it hadn't been for two female walkers who spotted the pups being abandoned and rescued them, Becky and her siblings would almost certainly have died in the freezing waters of the river.
Instead, she has enjoyed a full and happy life working as a Pets as Therapy dog - giving something back to the local community.
For the past eight years, Becky has brought joy to the elderly through weekly visits to local nursing homes and has raised thousands for charity at talks to groups, alongside her devoted owner, Margaret McKnight.
Her special qualities were recognised at the highest level when she famously won the first ever Scruffy Dogs category at Crufts two years ago, which led to a starring role in the Grand Opera House in Belfast in a production of Annie.
Her extraordinary life is now being celebrated again as she is crowned Northern Ireland's Top Dog in the very first competition of its kind to recognise our special canines.
Her owner, Margaret (63), a retired school teacher, animal lover and co-ordinator of the charity Pets as Therapy is thrilled that Becky has been chosen as the province's top dog.
She says: "I'm actually quite stunned, especially given the quality of the other finalists.
"Naturally, I voted for Becky, but I'm sure it was hard for people to know who to pick as they were all such top dogs. It's terrific and such a great opportunity to highlight the positive side of dogs and the help they are to us and how we can use them in so many positive ways."
Becky was one of five very special pets shortlisted for the title after a province-wide search was launched earlier this year by VisitScotland and Stena Line.
With more online searches last year for "pet-friendly accommodation" than "romantic accommodation" on the VisitScotland website and Northern Ireland boasting the highest rate of dog ownership in the UK, the organisers decided that a doggy holiday to Scotland was the perfect prize.
Becky will now enjoy a trip to Scotland courtesy of Stena Line and VisitScotland.
Her prize includes an exclusive VIP on-board experience with Stena Line and three nights at the Trigony House Hotel, Dumfries and Galloway.
It is a well-deserved break after what has been a tough year for Becky, who has come through three major operations. Earlier this year, she ruptured her right cruciate ligament and had to have major surgery on her leg, but six months later, just as she had got back on her feet, she ruptured her left cruciate and faced another operation.
Again, while recovering from this surgery, her vet discovered that she had a leaking pancreas, which is being managed with a low-fat diet and medication.
Margaret says: "We are currently waiting on tests to see how her pancreas is and if the diet has worked. Becky is great, though, considering what she has been through.
"She probably hasn't as much energy as she used to have, but she is still visiting Summerhill Residential Home every week with me. The residents there just love her and she lights up the room when she goes in.
"She is also giving a talk with me to a church group in Belfast tomorrow morning.
"When she sees me going anywhere, she is always up and ready to come with me.
"We are usually out giving talks for the charity a couple of times a week, but I plan to slow that down because while Becky is always keen, I think she isn't just as fit as she thinks she is."
Even with three big operations, Becky keeps on wagging her tail and smiling at everyone. It is this lovable side of her nature which prompted Margaret to get her involved in charity work eight years ago.
Becky has lived with a heart murmur and dyspraxia from birth, but Margaret realised very soon after rescuing her that she had a special talent - giving affection and love.
Since training as a Pets as Therapy dog, she has been a regular and most welcome visitor to a local EMI unit and a residential home in Bangor.
Margaret says: "Because of her health problems, she was never going to be the most agile dog, but I realised that I had this very loving dog and that was Becky's talent.
"She was rescued by two ladies who were walking on the Lagan Tow Path. They spotted two men throwing a sack into the river and were very brave and shouted at them.
"They rescued the dogs and there were eight or nine puppies in the sack. They were looked after by a very kind vet who kept them for Assisi Animal Shelter until they were rehomed.
"Every single one of them got a great home.
"I had just retired from teaching and although I had always rescued dogs before, I could never rescue a puppy because I worked full-time and so Becky was my first rescue puppy.
"I just felt because of her big heart and loving nature and because so many people had helped her, that getting her into charity work was the perfect fit and she has loved every minute of it, she is a really affectionate dog."
Becky is no stranger to being recognised for her special qualities following her Crufts success and lead role as Sandy in a production of Annie, where she made her stage debut, working alongside 240 young people.
Margaret says: "Crufts was amazing. It was so surreal because it was the first time they had these scruffy mutts competing and there we were surrounded by all these fabulous pedigree dogs.
"When she won and word spread, she became a bit of a celebrity and the next day, everybody wanted to pet her and have their pictures taken with her and, of course, she lapped up the attention."
Now, adding Northern Ireland's Top Dog to her list of achievements is another proud moment in her extraordinary life.
Thanks to her faithful charity work over the years and her interaction with so many people through her Pets as Therapy work, Becky's fans came out in force to vote for her to win the competition.
Margaret has been overwhelmed by the kindness of people and the support.
She says: "Becky has such a huge fan base and I couldn't believe how many people voted for her, it has just been wonderful and a huge surprise.
"Ever since she was very young, she has given something back. She works so hard for the charity and as a pet therapy dog.
"She goes into the centres and residential homes and greets everyone in the room, she is a real professional and gets the conversations going and gives everyone cuddles.
"She is a people-orientated dog and loves hugs and attention.
"She is such a hard working dog and I reckon she has raised £5,000 for charity over the years. She has been through a tough year with her health, but has bounced back.
"I know everybody's dog is special, but Becky has brought so much joy to so many people and she is going to love her holiday in Scotland.
"You don't often get the chance to go away with your dog and it is going to be lovely.
"Becky will be spending every minute with me and by gum, she will enjoy that."
What gave her the lead ...
Marc Casey, Stena Line Marketing manager (Irish Sea North), says: "We were absolutely delighted with the response we received from the public - people voted in their thousands and we'd genuinely like to thank everyone who took time out to vote on www.stenaline.co.uk/doggybreaks. We had five amazing finalists, any one of which would have been a worthy winner, so let's just say I'm thankful it was a public vote and I didn't have to choose.
"At Stena Line, we know that dogs are an important member of the family.
"That's the reason we have our on-board pet facilities and why we're always delighted to welcome pets on our sailings from Northern Ireland.
"Like all of our pet-loving passengers, Becky and her owner can look forward to a stress-free start to their dog-friendly holiday in Scotland.
"So on behalf of Stena Line, many congratulations to Becky once more; truly a shaggy-dog story with a happy ending."
VisitScotland's Helen Campbell adds: "When it comes to booking a holiday, it seems our pets are often more important than our partners.
"VisitScotland received a staggering 95% more enquiries into 'pet-friendly accommodation' than 'romantic accommodation' in the last year, showing just how important our pets are to us when choosing the perfect holiday destination.
"With over 1,800 dog friendly properties and many Scottish locations now welcoming pooches in gift shops, hair salons, clothing shops, food markets and even fitness studios, Scotland is a premier pet-friendly destination where families can enjoy brilliant moments to the full with their four-legged friends."