UAE Portrait of a Nation: Campaigning dog lover really walks the walkies

Omani Mr Darwish set up K9 Challenge to change the way some in society treat animals by finding homes for abandoned dogs.

Campaigner Hussain Darwish is determined to change the lives of humans and dogs with his mountain walkies. Courtesy Hussain Darwish
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DUBAI // Hussain Darwish wants to unite man and beast and help to banish the notion that Arabs have no affinity for dogs or care for their welfare.

Omani Mr Darwish set up K9 Challenge to change the way some in society treat animals by finding homes for abandoned dogs.

During winter, the group heads to the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah or the surrounding desert for dog walks, with people taking their pets or dogs from rescue centres for the day.

Mr Darwish, who grew up in the UAE and kept pets as a child, was shocked by cases of animal cruelty in the UAE.

The 31-year-old, who has two German Shepherds called Max and Chacka, wants to share his passion for animals in the hope it will encourage others to offer homes to abandoned pets.

“Organising these events is stressful, but I’m passionate about dogs and want to introduce new people into dog walking to show what they can get out of it, particularly in the beautiful outdoor environment of the UAE,” he says.

“The idea started when I was out for a hike with some friends and our dogs. There are not many places to take the dogs for a walk, and it is important they are exercised. The mountains are an amazing place to take them.

“We added photos on Facebook, and people were asking where they were taken. Most people had no idea there were mountains so close to Dubai where you could visit for the day.

“I came up with the idea of a challenge for dog owners and their animals – a safe event with marshals to encourage more people into the outdoors.”

Growing up in an animal-loving family in Dubai helped Mr Darwish develop a deep-rooted respect for dogs in particular, and he developed a strong bond with family pets. Organising events is a welcome relief from his day job in marketing.

The K9 Challenge has five checkpoints, with different distances between each, the most challenging is a 4.5 kilometre loop. The latest challenge planned on November 11 will lead walkers on a 5.5km route, the longest yet.

It is not a competition as organisers don’t want people running or taking risks as it is a long way to base camp and a difficult place to get to if someone gets injured.

“Dogs are special – they are real companions,” Mr Darwish says. “Many people think Arabs are cruel to animals and don’t treat their pets well. This is not true overall, and we are trying to change that view.

“We are not aggressive to dogs, nor do we hate animals. Religion does not let us harm animals, but there are a few people who are abusive to dogs. This is so wrong, but not the case for the majority. Sadly, people harm animals all over the world - not just in the UAE.”

There are plenty of dogs who need homes or to be walked. People can foster a dog for a day and it helps create bonds. Last year, 28 dogs were rehomed from RAK Animal Welfare or K9 Friends in Dubai as a result of people taking dogs on the challenge.

People can get together a team or family, friends or work colleagues and it helps bring them together and stimulate their dogs, or rescue dogs from a kennel.

Anyone wanting to take a dog out for the day can contact K9 Friends or RAK Animal Welfare directly. Each team must have a minimum of one dog, and a maximum of five.

There are five start times, with the first batch leaving checkpoint one at 8.30am.

Those wishing to take part can register online at or at Go Sports retail outlets.