Riley the lurcher spent his first night with Abigail McAuley in a pop-up tent.

He was only eight weeks old when Abigail, of Sunningdale Drive, Daventry, adopted him, the last puppy in his litter, nearly four years ago.

“It was not a definite,” recalls Abigail, 19. “I wasn’t thinking at all that I was going to get a puppy, so I wasn’t prepared. He lived in a tent the first night that I got him.”

Later that year, Abigail was diagnosed with mental health problems. A long-time sufferer of depression and anxiety, she hit the point where she needed more help.

“Riley came along at the right time.,” she added.

“When I didn’t know what I needed, he’s what I needed.”

Abigail is hoping to reward him for his loyalty by nominating him in the Man’s Best Friend category of the Friends for Life awards at Crufts this year.

After competing at the show for four years, she decided to take a shot at an award with Riley.

“When I was nominating Riley, I was crying because I couldn’t express enough how much this dog does for me,” she continues.

“He’d love it. A day out full of dogs, he’d be in his element.

“Although he won’t understand what this means, I’ll feel better from giving back to him a little bit of what he’s given me.”

Fate brought them together three years ago, when Abigail was introduced to a puppy named Alfie at a flyball show, a sport in which she competed for nine years.

Smitten, Abigail begged her mum to take her to see the last remaining puppy in Alfie’s litter.

Thankfully she obliged, and as soon as Riley was placed in her arms, the deal was done.

“I started crying, then my mum started crying. He came back there and then.”

Friends for Life is a celebration of just how much dogs change and improve people’s lives. Five of the finalists will got to Crufts, held once again at the NEC in Birmingham, where the winner will be announced on Sunday March 11.

People can vote for the dog they want to win by visiting the Crufts website, with the victor receiving £5,000 from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust to donate to a dog charity of their choice and runners-up £1,000.

Though her mental health problems prevail, Riley’s dedicated companionship has rebuilt her confidence, whether it’s sleeping with her at night or refusing to leave her side - even on the toilet.

While her anxiety can prevent Abigail from preventing simple daily tasks, Riley encourages her to get outdoors.

“Daily tasks that other people find easy, I find so daunting. Most days I find it difficult even just to have a shower,” she explains.

“He helps me get out. Even if it’s just to walk him, it will benefit him but it benefits me because it gives me a reason to get up and go.

“I tell him everything. Obviously he can’t talk back, but just knowing that he’s there helps mentally.

“Some people would say he’s just a dog but to me he’s family, he is my life.

“Everything I do always comes back to Riley.

“He has honestly saved my life. There’s no other way to say it.”