12-year-old Marden, who has a rare genetic condition, fulfills her ‘dream’ of performing at Crufts 2022
A young girl with a rare genetic condition that will eventually see her powered by her heart has achieved her lifelong dream of competing at Crufts.
Ellissia East-Hickman, 12, suffers from a rare and incurable neuropathic bowel disorder, meaning she has spent most of her life in hospital.
This condition makes it difficult for her to eat and causes her to need an ostomy bag because the nerves to her stomach, intestines and bladder are not working properly.
Marden’s schoolgirl was also diagnosed with autism at a young age and found dogs to be a calming presence, which inspired her to train pets and realize her talent.
Ellissia, a pupil of Grange Park School in Wrotham, caught the eye of many experts around the world and had the opportunity to show off her skills at the famous dog show over the weekend.
She said: “I’m really excited and it’s definitely been a dream come true, it’s been a huge achievement to bring them to Crufts, it just started as a hobby and now it’s something much better .
“I find dogs to be soothing, and it’s interesting to read about different dogs and get to know them. You can’t just say ‘a dog is a dog’, they all have different personalities and mindsets.
Ellissia won a prestigious first place Crufts with shih tzu Pebbles and her dogs all placed in their categories, in a stunning achievement that left her and her family “over the moon”.
Pebbles won her Minor Puppy female dog Utility category, and young French Bulldogs Voodoo and Nala placed fourth and highly rated in their individual Utility categories on Saturday.
On Thursday, in the pastoral category, Sable, the German Shepherd, received a very glowing honor, and Cymbar, the French Bulldog, and Sable, received third and fourth place respectively in the Good Citizen Dog category.
Ellissia’s proud mum, Cheryl East, 44, said: “It’s still not really sinking in, we’re over the moon and so proud of Ellissia, we can’t believe it.
“Every dog entered placed in Crufts, it’s really overwhelming. In some categories there were the top breed group winners, but Ellissia’s dogs placed higher.”
During the lockdown, Ellisia couldn’t go to school, so she used the time to train her French bulldog Cymbar to become a therapy dog to help her communicate and manage her anxiety.
She then progressed to training the entire six-person show team, to demonstrate her versatility from breed to breed.
At her last dog show in January, she earned her first Best Bitch certificate with one of her French Bulldogs, competing with 141 other dogs.
In the utility category on Saturday, alongside two-year-old Cymbar will be her fellow French bulldogs, Nala, also two, nine-month-old Voodoo and Pebbles, and nine-month-old Shih Tzu.
Ellissa has previously competed in the pastoral category with her mother and daughter, German Shepherds four-year-old Sheera and 11-month-old Sable.
Despite her struggles, she now has several top teams lined up and an offer to compete in a modeling event.
Ellissia’s mum, Cheryl East, added: ‘It’s been really overwhelming and wonderful and we’re so proud of Ellissia.
“As she has autism, she can only focus on things she connects with and understands, so with her love and understanding of dogs, she focused on handling skills to perfection.
“She entered all 6 dogs, qualifying them all for Crufts 2022, despite not even having competed for a year.
“Just being able to get in the ring and stay calm is a big achievement but she’s getting all this praise on her own merit, no one knows what she’s going through behind the scenes, they just saw how badly she handles dogs well.
“This young lady has competed against some of the top exhibitors including many Crufts winners and mostly adult competitors, she had to overcome her anxiety and deal with her disability.
“With the help of his show dogs to understand his needs and his understanding of theirs to become great examples of how this kid connects with dogs and to step into such a competitive international sport and hit this world show like a storm.
“We come back to the venue and cry every night because we’re so proud, we’re in shock at how far this has come in just one year.”
Ellissia is due to have another operation this year and will eventually need an organ transplant and surgery to allow her to feed from her heart.
But that doesn’t mean the dogs will have time off as she plans to follow them via FaceTime on her trips to Great Ormond Street.