Earlier this month, I went for a walk with 20,000 dogs. Tiny chihuahuas, enormous Saint Bernards, families of huskies and all kinds of dogs in between. We walked three and a half miles with our eleven month old puppy to complete the Great North Dog Walk. The walk begins where the famous Great North Run ends and forms a large loop across grassland and above cliffs in the town of South Shields. It really is the biggest dog walk in the world, holding the Guinness World Record. It began with a few hundred dogs 23 years ago and now more than 20,000 dogs take part, representing 185 breeds.
There’s something exhilarating about walking with so many dogs, of all different breeds. So many dogs with so many stories: those who have been brought up from birth to be cossetted and spoiled; those who were rescued from horrific circumstances; those who work and those who spend their lives at leisure. You can see their diverse personalities: the ones that strain at the lead and jump around excitedly at being surrounded by so many dogs and people; those who walk sedately, seemingly aloof to all the excitement; those who are grumpy if another dog gets in their way. And with them, their people, with their own stories and personalities. There is no typical dog, just as there is no typical dog owner.
For us, the walk illustrated perseverance – our young dog, obviously exhausted half way through, carrying on without complaint, still with the same sense of excitement he had when he began. And it was about that doggy magic again, of not worrying about anything else, just putting one nose in front of the other and enjoying the moment.
And afterwards was the afterglow. As we finished, we colonised spots on the grass, groups of people and dogs. In our own circle, two Labradors, three kinds of terrier and two spaniels. And the people accompanying them just as diverse. We exchanged doggy treats, strokes and cuddles with all the dogs, and home-made chocolate treats for us. We discussed everything from homelessness to crafts and of course, the many foibles of the creatures that were our reason for being here. So we didn’t only walk with 20,000 dogs, we also walked with more than 20,000 people, getting to know one another a little better through our common interests. Above all, the day was about sharing – our love for our dogs, conversation, aching muscles, food and the achievements not of us, but of the creatures we spend our lives with.
My dog ended his day lying flat out on the bed, barking in his sleep in that funny way he does that sounds like he’s laughing. His legs were twitching as he ran in his sleep. His nose quivered as he dreamed of remembered scents and, I hope, the happy memories of the day.