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Trail running

Trailwalker, meet Trailwagger – Hong Kong race for dogs and humans that raises money to save bile bears

Sponsored walks such as the annual Peak to Fong and new event Trailwagger pair entrants with their canine companions and let dog-owning Hong Kong nature lovers combine their passions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 5:52pm

Easy access to a host of outdoor country parks and trail systems have made Hong Kong a centre for hiking and trail running, particularly during the cooler and drier winter months when nature lovers take to the trails in droves to escape the bustle of city life.

But while trail running and hiking events have exploded in popularity in recent years, there are few opportunities for dog-loving humans to enjoy competitive, organised outings with their canine friends.

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The annual “Peak to Fong” sponsored walk raises funds for Hong Kong Dog Rescue, and pairs dogs with their humans for a leisurely stroll from the Peak Galleria down to the finish in a carnival atmosphere in Lan Kwai Fong. Now in its 14th year, it attracts thousands of dog owners and dog lovers, and has a big-name sponsor in the form of Disney, who create special T-shirts for the event.

With demand clearly there for similarly themed events, last year saw the inaugural Hong Kong Trailwagger take place on Lantau island – the brainchild of William Sargent, who also founded the Barclays Moontrekker night race on the island.

Sargent wanted to combine two of his favourite things, dogs and hiking on Hong Kong’s beautiful and highly accessible country park trails. Having secured a start in Mui Wo and a finish in Discovery Bay with a barbecue area where competitors could congregate and socialise with their dogs, he set to work negotiating with government departments for the permits he would need for his 8km route – no easy task given Hong Kong’s reputation as a city that is not dog-friendly.

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However, he found that many of the people he was talking to had dogs themselves and became vocal advocates for the project. With the 8km course attracting more than 100 hikers, runners and their dogs of all sizes and breeds, safety was a primary concern for the organiser.

“When we first conceived the idea, we really didn’t know what to expect. We thought that maybe the dogs would fight each other or misbehave, make a mess and so on, but it was the total opposite,” says Sargent. Dogs contributed to the social aspect of the race, and are great ice-breakers, he says.

“The event was brilliant and very inclusive – hikers, runners and all dogs, big or small,” says Kerensa Choi, a Lantau resident and passionate trail runner for many years who regularly trains with her dogs. “The organisation was top-notch and the dogs were well catered for at the checkpoints along the way. The barbecue at the end was great because we got to meet lots of people and all the dogs got to hang out together in a really nice social atmosphere.”

Trailwagger raises funds for its charity partner Animals Asia, known for its work rescuing moon bears from bile farms in East Asia but which also runs programmes with dogs in Hong Kong and campaigns for dogs’ welfare in China.

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Asked how last year’s event was received by those who weren’t taking part but had to share the trails with competitors, Choi says people they passed along the way seemed genuinely interested in the theme of the event and its charitable element.

Even people who don’t have dogs were saying they’d like to borrow one so they could take part
Kerensa Choi

“Many of them were asking me about it and saying they wanted to take part next time. Even people who don’t have dogs were saying they’d like to borrow one so they could take part.”

For fashion model and creative director Kelly England, not having a dog to compete with did nothing to curb her enthusiasm, and borrowing one from a friend for the day eventually led to her adopting a dog, Winston. She is looking forward to attending the event again this year with him, and believes people should be encouraged to respect the outdoors and to care about animals.

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“The organisers did a superb job, keeping a close eye on us all and encouraging us on. Soon into the race, I learned how many unwanted dogs need good homes in Hong Kong – many of the dogs participating were rescues and extremely happy animals, very well behaved and well controlled by their owners.”

Some people, of course, don’t like dogs, and Sargent asks competitors to be mindful of this. A section about race etiquette on the Trailwagger website asks participants not to let dogs off their leash unless they are able to come back immediately when called, and not to let them off the leash at all in urban or built-up areas. By law in Hong Kong, all dogs weighing more than 20kg must be on a leash of not more than two metres when in public places.

Other considerations include cleaning up all dog mess, giving priority to members of the public when passing, and maintaining control of your dog at all times.

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With Trailwagger being a new event, Sargent believes it’s important to show the authorities that large-scale events with dogs are not a nuisance or a cause for complaint; anyone found to be not adhering to race rules or instructions from marshals and event staff is likely to be barred from future activities.

As Sargent explains, it’s still early days and he hopes to see Trailwagger grow over the new few years to become the go-to event for humans and their dogs. Following feedback from participants last year, this year’s event has been moved to a location on Hong Kong island that utilises more of the accessible and family-friendly trails between Parkview and Tai Tam, and relies less on long concrete sections.

“I hope that as Trailwagger grows, we can incorporate various distances on the same event and raise more money and awareness for Animals Asia,” he says. “This new route will take competitors along some excellent new sections of trail, with views of the south of Hong Kong Island, and another social finishing area to congregate and meet new human and canine friends.”

Trailwagger 2017 is on March 25. For more details: trailwaggerhk.com