Daniela Gargaro's dog Fudge always knew when she was about to have a seizure.
He would sit next to her throughout each episode, so when she came back around, he was there, a caring companion welcoming her back.
Daniela, or ‘Dela’ as everyone in Barooga knows her, was born with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy — a crippling combination.
But despite having a disease that causes physical difficulties, Dela is a two-time national athletic champion and a crack swimmer to boot.
And now, her beloved part Chihuahua, part fox-terrier is the forerunner for the prestigious Cobram-Barooga Top Dog competition.
Dela, 16, moved to Barooga with her mother Rebecca Gargaro from Hay six years ago to be closer to the Royal Children's Hospital and Rebecca's partner Dean Jobling, who has become the father Dela never had.
On Christmas Eve 2002, Dela's father Mario died by suicide when Rebecca was two months pregnant with her.
Rebecca said he was a vegetable farmer in Hay during the start of the drought, but never knew he was suffering from depression.
“There's not enough men talking about it,” she said.
“I believe it doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're male or female, kids at school — you need to talk and not be closed up.
“I never knew he was battling depression and it was only after he died that the doctors told me the full story.”
Throughout the tough times and the good, Fudge has always been by Dela's side.
“He's my mate and best friend, everywhere I go, he goes too,” she said.
“Each time I had a seizure, Fudge knew and would sit beside me until I came to.
“He also knows when I’m not having a good day as he follows me all day.”
A Year 11 student at Finley High School, Dela enjoys sport (of course) and cooking classes.
Since 2013, she has made state athletics and swimming every year.
“Dela was also in the national athletic team where she competed in Canberra in 2015 and received bronze in the AWD relay, and silver for the same event in Tasmania in 2014,” Rebecca said.
“In an average week, Dela does personal training twice, physio once and is always walking or doing sprints.”
Not one to shy away from a bit of attention, Dela's other claim to fame was when she carried the Olympic torch through Cobram with Victoria Police.
She also tossed the coin at last year's Murray Football League grand final and won tickets to the 2018 Commonwealth Games through a competition which she was anonymously entered into.
Aside from her athletic prowess, Dela has taken out top prizes for her cows at the Geelong and Cobram Agricultural shows.
Two carers regularly take Dela to agricultural shows for Jerseys and Holsteins, where they bring cows for Dela and her team to look after and feed.
She has also been involved in Riding Develops Abilities in Cobram since she started high school, where every fortnight she rides horses and learns how to maintain them.
Dela has been seizure-free since having brain surgery in April 2016.
“The dream was to become a paralympian,"
“But I also want to be a personal trainer, probably locally.”
For now, Dela has her sights set on a different goal — winning the Cobram-Barooga Top Dog competition.
Fudge is a strong leader of the pack but rounding out the top five are:
Jett: This 12-week-olf staffy x bull mastiff puppy already knows how to sit, high five, shake, lay down and jump.
Coco: At 17 months old this lagotto romagnolo is currently enjoying the school holidays with some time off work from St Joseph's Primary School in Cobram.
Peggy: This two-and-half-year-old Labrador also answers to Pegilicious, Pegosaurous and Peg-Legs.
Stitch: Enjoying daily bush walks and bones, this two-and-half-year-old pug is the Shannon family’s fourth child.
Who will take out the bragging rights? There is still time to vote at www.cobramcourier.com.au/topdog