A FAITHFUL pooch could win a national award after helping his owner with her severe mental and physical health issues.

Assistance dog Archie has been shortlisted for 'assistance animal of the year' at October's Animal Star Awards, after being nominated by Alex Cowtan from Standlake, near Witney.

The caring canine has helped the 22-year-old out of a 'very dark place' since they were united two years ago, with Ms Cowtan training Archie herself.

The pair became friends instantly, but it was the little benefits that made Ms Cowtan realise Archie could have a life-changing impact.

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She said: "When I first got Archie he was more of a companion, but then I realised what a difference he was making to my mental health.

"I did some research to see if he could become an assistance dog and trained him myself.

"If I'm having a panic attack I start to shake and I don't realise. Archie will come up to me and sit with me and it makes it more manageable."

"He'll lead me to somewhere safe when I get panic attacks, or he can pick things off the floor and open the fridge.

"They're only little things, but they make a huge difference."

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As well as suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, Ms Cowtan suffers from fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

There is currently no cure, but treatments including painkillers can ease a person's symptoms and improve their quality of life.

She said: "I get a lot of pain in my joints that stops me getting out of bed. The more I do, the more pain I'm in."

The West Oxfordshire resident had to quite her full-time apprenticeship after being diagnosed, while even leaving the house became a struggle.

Ms Cowtan, who lives with her mum, sister and two other dogs, Micah and Milo, then decided to get a puppy of her own.

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She said: "I was really struggling with my mental health, so it was mainly to get me out of the house.

"As soon as I saw him, I knew he was the one I wanted.

"He was the last one in the litter, but straight away there was a connection."

Ms Cowtan added: "Before, I was too anxious to leave the house, but now I have to walk him regularly."

Oxford Mail:

The pair have now entered several dog shows together, while the 22-year-old begun volunteering at dog training company K9 Paws earlier this year.

Archie, aged two, will join Ms Cowtan at Portsmouth's Marriott Hotel on October 19 to find out if he can claim the prestigious award.

The dog is up for one of the night's 14 prizes, plus a lifetime achievement category.

His owner is hoping her story encourages others to change their lives by getting their own companions for their 'hidden disabilities'.

She said: "It's not widely known that you can get assistance dogs for hidden disabilities and mental health issues, so I hope I can raise awareness."