And as an ‘Extra’ special surprise for guests Ricky Gervais also arrived to accept an award presented by Dr Brian May for Outstanding Contribution to Animal Welfare

Bafta-award winning director, actor and writer – and friend to animals – Ricky, has used social media to highlight several animal welfare campaigns this year to his 10 million followers. These included the RSPCA’s and other animal welfare charities campaign to stop the potential repeal of the Hunting Act, and the RSPCA’s Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign which pushed to introduce laws to regulate the sale of puppies in England and Wales.

Ricky received his standing ovation as he collected his award. He said: “I think the RSPCA are great, they are the people on the frontline they are the people who are tackling it.”

He praised RSPCA inspectors, saying: “Those people are amazing, they are an emergency service, they are fantastic.”

Ricky added: “I think it is one of the greatest privileges of freedom of speech, to use your voice for those who don’t have one.

“I think people who are kind to animals are the loveliest people.”

Brian May, who presented his award, said: “It is vital we have a strong and healthy RSPCA. If we did not have the RSPCA who would prosecute animal abusers. The RSPCA takes the sword for animals.”

Stars including Michelle Collins, Alison Hammond and Nikki Sanderson attended the heartwarming evening to see the award winners announced including Victoria Bryceson who won Animal Enthusiast of the Year for dedicating her life to helping animals in Borneo.

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“It is important to remember that we are a nation of animal lovers and other countries could learn a lot from us.”

Animals including a Staffordshire bull terrier found stray and rescued by the RSPCA who went on to become a trained police sniffer dog also won awards on the night. The Staffy, Stella, won Public Service Animal of the Year for her role in finding cash, drugs and guns for Gloucester Police.

The third annual Animal Hero Awards – held at 8 Northumberland – is run in conjunction with the RSPCA, Daily Mirror and Bayer pharmaceuticals, also awarded was Mark Abraham as Vet of the Year and Celia Hammond former model turned animal welfare campaigner received the Lifetime Achievement award.

This year the RSPCA superstar of the year went to Julie Bedford, a pet behavioural expert who has put together two courses for RSPCA staff to help dogs showing signs of aggression in RSPCA care.

This can mean that previously unrehomable dogs are able to have a happy and fulfilling life in a family home.

Julie said: “It is an absolute honour to win this award – especially hearing all the incredible stories here tonight.

“I feel thrilled and shocked. It is the RSPCA inspectors who are frontline, dealing with some very upsetting stories – I don’t think they realise how amazing they are.” The second RSPCA sponsored award – the Hero Animal of the Year – went to Pepper the protective stray who protected holiday maker Georgia Bradley when two men approached her on a remote stretch of beach in Crete.

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Georgia paid for vet treatment and a passport for Pepper so she could take her home and adopt her – and in one final twist Pepper gave birth to puppies six weeks later.

Speaking at the ceremony RSPCA Interim Chief Executive David Canavan said: “The Animal Hero Awards is a fantastic event and one that the RSPCA are very proud to be part of.

“I was honoured to hear all the animal heroes’ stories. Having an event dedicated to the positive power of animals really shows the impact they have on our lives and highlights the wonderful work of the people who help and heal them.”