Anorexia took Marie Hamlin to the brink of despair. But her little dog Blaze had other ideas…
"I didn't know I needed a dog in my life until I was introduced to an unwanted litter of cross-breed terrier puppies. Th ere was one that nobody else wanted, but he stole my heart and we bonded immediately. Th ere was just something about this special little creature, who I named Blaze.
"When he was six months old, I started taking Blaze to charity dog shows so that he could meet lots of people and other dogs. We competed in obedience and novelty classes, and from the start he seemed to have a kind of star quality that made people look at him.
"He won his very first obedience competition and I was thrilled. Blaze seemed to know how happy he made me.
"Months went by, and I began experiencing relationship problems and broke up with my partner. Although I probably looked happier on the outside, I became depressed and knew something wasn't right.
"I started skipping meals, being sick, and exercising Blaze much more. I was developing an unhealthy relationship with food and didn't know what to do.
"Then I started seeing a new man and for a while I felt more like my old self, but my working hours were long and I was constantly tired. However, this didn't stop me exercising. Although my body was getting weaker and weaker, I ate less and less, and exercised more and more.
"One afternoon I visited my GP, and reality hit. I was diagnosed as anorexic and signed off work. I came home and cried and cried. Blaze tried his best to comfort me, but I felt like a useless failure and a waste of space. I was at a very low, dark point in my life.
Out of control
"As the weeks went by, I lost more weight and started fainting. The first time I collapsed I was home alone with Blaze, who lay by my side and kept licking my face to try and wake me up. Eventually it worked.
"I was always really shaky and upset afterwards, but Blaze was constantly there for me, doing his best to comfort me through these tough times when I was so vulnerable. I began exercising even more, and took Blaze on long runs. I ran until I collapsed. One day, I collapsed in a field miles from home. It was a really cold afternoon, and Blaze did his usual job of staying by my side and trying to wake me up by licking my face. But this time I didn't wake up.
"Blaze refused to move from my side, but lay as close to me as possible to keep me warm. Eventually, a man saw us and came over. Blaze went into protective mode and growled at him, but then seemed to sense that this man could help and allowed him to do so.
"My anorexia and depression took such a hold that at one point my Body Mass Index (BMI) dropped to a very low 15 and I became really ill. I began attending weekly one-to-one sessions at an eating disorder clinic, but at first these made me worse.
"I would become extremely upset and the only one I could talk to was Blaze. In my darkest moments, I even talked to Blaze about ending my life. But how could I when Blaze needed me and would do anything for me?
"On the days when I just wanted to hide away from the world Blaze jumped up on to my lap and tucked his head under my chin to give me comfort while I cried. Our special bond was inseparable.
"After months of treatment I finally started to feel better. Progress was very slow but gradually my confidence started to come back. I took Blaze to a charity dog show and that was it - I was hooked again!
Road to recovery
"One day, a letter arrived from the Kennel Club inviting me and Blaze to compete in the Companion Dog Show at Discover Dogs in Earls Court, London.
"I was excited but extremely nervous, but my family and friends convinced me to go. I decided Blaze deserved the recognition.
"The atmosphere was amazing. People kept stopping to speak to me and Blaze, but he just looked at me as if to say: ‘What's the big deal?'.
"As we were queuing to go into the ring, I began visibly shaking. I picked Blaze up and whispered: ‘I don't think I can do this.' But Blaze had other ideas and wiggled out of my arms on to the floor.
"The next minute, I heard the commentator say: ‘In the ring now is Marie Hamlin, with Blaze' and although Blaze never ever pulled on the lead, on that day he literally dragged me!
"Once we were in the show ring he just strutted his stuff so that all the attention was on him. realised nobody was staring and judging me. When I talked to the judges I became quite emotional and tearful. I think it was the realisation that with Blaze's help, I had overcome something that I never thought I could.
"I was absolutely ecstatic when Blaze was chosen as the winner. And when I had to go into the ring again for Best in Show I was able to do it without as much encouragement from Blaze, which was such a great feeling. I was over the moon when Blaze was awarded Best in Show. There was a lot of tough competition and it was an amazing achievement.
"We still attend charity shows. Last year, Blaze won Supreme Champion at the Cross-breed and Mongrel Championship Show. Judges always seem to pick up on our special bond and comment on this.
"This year, we even appeared on the Sports Relief Top Dog show, which was a fantastic experience.
"Anorexia stays with you for life and sometimes I have bad days and weeks, but now I'm the one in control, rather than the other way round.
"Whatever happens Blaze will be with me, and I am so grateful to him for everything. If you spot one of us at a charity dog show this summer you can be sure that the other will be very close by!"
Marie Hamlin was talking to Andrea McHugh.