What started out as a simple dog walk has raised $9 million for charity

June 15, 2017, 11:26 a.m.
Dogs and their people line up for the 2017 Great North Dog Walk
Photo: Tony Carlisle/Great North Dog Walk

An impressive group of canines and their human companions recently headed out for a 3-mile hike in the small coastal town of South Shields in England. But it wasn't just any hike.

The 27th annual Great North Dog Walk kicked off on the morning of June 4 with more than 42,500 people accompanying a record-breaking 30,114 dogs, representing 185 breeds. The brainchild of Tony Carlisle, a former teacher, the event started more humbly, with a dozen of his students and their dogs back in 1990.

"We have a Great North event for everything — run, swim, toddle, bike ride, junior run, swim, etc. — but nothing for animals," says Carlisle, who wondered why they couldn't combine two great ideas. "I had a black Labrador called Luther .... and thought as a teacher, let's do something we all do who have a dog: Take your dog for walk and raise money at the same time."

Now, the event has broken at least 16 Guinness World Records and has raised a total of about $8.88 million (U.S.) for charity over the years, according to Carlisle.

"Some people have been coming annually for over 20 years, therefore there's camaraderie," Carlisle says. "(They do it) for the love of dogs, to share in something special."

The walk is a circular course with alternative routes for wheelchairs, strollers and older dogs that might have difficulty navigating the coastal path. Participants can choose from nearly three dozen charities when they sign up, and that's where their enrollment fee goes. The beneficiaries include animal shelters, veterans groups and cancer research organizations.

With that many dogs (and people), there are a few basic rules. Most importantly, you have to keep your dog on a leash, clean up after your pet, and there's a maximum of four dogs per person. (But there's no limit to the number of people who can walk with one dog.)

"All dogs socialize and get on but have sensible ownership displayed by their owners," according to Carlisle, who says never "in his wildest dreams" did he believe the event would grow like this.