UAE dog lovers take to the hills

Humans and dogs are to scale a mountain in Ras Al Khaimah on Friday in a challenge that coincides with The National's #startwalking month.

Hussain Darwish, organiser of the K9 Challenge, with his own dogs in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // In the shadows of the Hajar Mountains in Ras Al Khaimah on Friday, 150 people will enjoy the health benefits of dog walking as they take on the second K9 Challenge.
The event hopes to encourage more people to start walking and also re-home stray dogs taken in by K9 Friends, Dubai's largest pet sanctuary.
Organiser Hussain Darwish, 30, who lives with his dog Chaka in Jumeirah Village Triangle, is a keen hiker in the wadis and mountains of the UAE and Oman.
Mr Darwish has always been fascinated by animals, nature and challenging himself with long-distance hikes, and he hopes the event will continue year after year.
"Walking is a great way to get out into the open air and to exercise," he said. "We can also pair up anyone who wants to take part but doesn't have a dog with one from K9 Friends. There are lots of animals there who need a new home so hopefully it will encourage people to take in one of the dogs."
After three years of trials, Mr Darwish organised the first K9 Challenge in January, which took participants on a hike with their dogs to experience an adventure in the wilderness.
"The venue and obstacles are chosen to suit all people and dogs," he said. "Whether new to hiking or experienced, all participants will enjoy the challenge.
"Hiking with your dog is a sport that stimulates your body and mind, which enables you to strengthen the bond between you, with obstacles and checkpoints along the way."
Participants are separated into colour-coded batches and given a corresponding coloured bandanna. Batches set off at 20-minute intervals.
It is a timely event because The National has just launched the #startwalking challenge to help motivate more people to begin taking regular walks to improve their health. Those who sign up by March 5 at can compete against friends and family to see who walks the most steps.
Doctors recommend 10,000 steps a day as a good benchmark to maintain a healthy fitness level, because walking is easy on the joints and exercises the heart at the perfect rate to help burn fat.
Sam Brown, 41, from England, was always a keen walker but exercise took on more significance when she had breast cancer diagnosed in August last year.
The art teacher at Foremarke School in Al Barsha South has just finished chemotherapy and is joining the K9 Challenge with her West Highland terrier, Isla.
"I used to love walking the coastal paths of Cornwall but there are some stunning places to get out and walk here in Dubai, too," said the Arabian Ranches resident.
"I take Isla out every day, sometimes twice a day. The exercise has been really good for me, particularly during my treatment.
"The doctors said I would get really ill because of the treatment but I have been lucky so far and managed to get out most days, even if it is just for a five-minute walk."
Ms Brown will start radiotherapy in a few weeks but first she will focus on tomorrow's three-hour walk in the mountains.
"I did the event in January and it was great fun," she said.
Marshals will be on hand to look after participants during the challenge, with three paramedics on site, in addition to RAK Hospital ambulance and nursing staff at the base camp.
Dominik Saurek, of VetCare Veterinary Medical Centre, said: "We take the safety of the canine companions seriously.
"The results we saw on the dogs were amazing. Many people fostered animals from shelters like K9 Friends."
Massih Shahbazi, 24, the event co-organiser, said he hoped the challenge, which seems to calm the dogs, would lead to more of the shelter's animals being adopted.
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