Civil servant Neil Robinson is planning Northern Ireland’s first ‘canicross’ event – a cross-country fun run where dogs and their owners will sprint, jog or walk together.
With pets attached to their humans with either traditional leads or using waist belts and bungee lines, the Waggy Race at the National Trust’s Castle Ward estate in Co Down in March is open to dogs of all shapes and sizes, with different categories to suit slow and faster paces.
Neil, who along with his wife Ruth runs regularly with their dog Zola, explained that canicross is already growing in popularity in other countries, having first originated in colder climes.
“Ruth and I both run, so we chose a breed of dog that we could run with – enter Zola the Siberian Sled dog,” said the Lisburn man.
“We bought a racing harness and waist belt and line, then discovered that running with your dog is an actual sport that started in Eastern Europe as a means of keeping sled dogs fit out of season.
“This sport has spread to Great Britain. We saw it as a great opportunity to organise over here – and the Waggy Races concept was born.”
Neil and Ruth chose Zola - a Samoyed with a distinctive fluffy white coat - for the breed’s running ability.
He went on: “Zola loves it, we take her out a day a week and she just runs along. Sometimes if she sees something in front she’ll pull you along.”
On the delicate subject of doggy toileting Neil pointed out: “We will be encouraging everyone taking part to bring pooh bags and bins will be provided.”
As for canine habit of stopping to sniff just about everything they can when on a walk, Neil said: “Our dog is very easily distracted but she runs quite a bit.
“We’re quite lucky she’s bred to pull sleds so she likes to run at the front, and having her pulling you along helps.”
He said it was a case of getting the balance right when running with the dog.
He added: “My wife and I both run casually with Lisburn Athletics Club and got a dog a couple of years ago, choosing a breed we could run with.”
He said: “Again we would encourage responsible dog ownership and make sure your dog is able to take part.”
The Waggy Race will be staged at Castle Ward on Sunday, March 23, at 10.30am.
For more information on the event visit www.waggy-races.com