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Jilly’s Jolly Jaunt

SINCE I started writing this weekly column for Best In Show Daily I feel that my contributions have tended to look at the less positive side of our hobby but this week I am able to write about an event which has been truly inspiring and which I feel a genuine sense of pride at having been involved in.

“Jilly” Ch Soletrader Peek a Boo and Handler Gavin Robertson winner of 2013 Crufts dog show. photo credit Dogworld-UK

I’ve just spent the day in London with Gavin Robertson, handler of this year’s Crufts best in show winner Ch Soletrader Peek a Boo or Jilly as we have come to know her, and his wife Sara one of Jilly’s owners. We were there to distribute the money that was raised after Gavin led a 140 mile sponsored walk in June this year which became known as Jilly’s Jolly Jaunt.

The jaunt has raised a staggering £49,000 and has brought the pedigree dog world in the UK together in a way that I have never seen before. If it was a privilege to have been part of the original walk, being part of the distribution of the money filled me with a deep sense of pride.

The Kennel Club’s Charitable Trust received £2,450, left to right Amelia Siddle, Gavin Robertson, Mike Townsend, chairman of the Charitable Trust and Sara Robertson

Great Ormond Street Hospital, one of the top five specialists children’s hospitals in the world received a cheque for £29,400. When we visited the hospital to present the cheque we were given a tour of the facilities and its fair to say that we all felt very humbled by the experience. By definition the children in Great Ormond Street are all very ill but the devotion and commitment of the staff and fund raisers was inspirational and we all felt delighted to be donating such a large sum to such a worthy cause.

DogLost a charity set up ten years ago to reunite dog owners and their lost dogs benefitted to the tune of £17,150 and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust received £2,450.

The jaunt was Gavin’s brainchild. Just a few weeks after he and Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Jilly won best in show at Crufts he came up with a scheme that has brought the pedigree dog world together in a quite remarkable way. Gavin’s idea to organize what he initially saw as a simple sponsored walk snowballed into an event which will be remembered by the world of pedigree dogs for years to come.

The 140-mile, week-long Jilly’s Jolly Jaunt from the NEC in Birmingham – scene of Gavin and Jilly’s Crufts triumph was put together in just six weeks and began on June 10 when 90-year-old doyen of the British pedigree dog scene Marion Spavin dropped the flag which saw the first group of walkers put their best feet forward. The group was led by Gavin and Amelia Siddle with Jilly and Amelia’s Pointer Flo, Sh Ch Wilchrimane Ice Maiden.

Handing over the money at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, from left to right Sara and Gavin Robertson, Amelia Siddle and Dog World’s Stuart Baillie.

They were joined at various stages by 18 previous Crufts best in show winners, seven group winners from this year’s show, dogs of the 14 high-profile breeds and many individual supporters – including me and my Border Terrier Alfie, Dog World’s associate editor Simon Parsons with Pembroke Corgi Rufus and our marketing and events manager Adrian Marett with another PGBV Merlin.

The walkers were grateful that the weather was kind during the week, and at each checkpoint Gavin and Amelia were greeted by a fresh set of walkers and their four-legged friends.

Every one of the breeds that have been designated ‘high-profile’ were represented on the walk along with a representative of all the breeds on the KC’s ‘vulnerable’ list. All seven of this year’s Crufts group winners were involved as well as the handlers, owners or breeders of 18 previous Crufts BIS winners, and last year’s runner-up Top Dog to Jilly, the Toy Poodle Ch Vanitonia You’ll See, also took part in the walk as well.

“It was fantastic to see so many faces turn up to support us each day,” Gavin said at the time.

And throughout the five days the welfare of the dogs was paramount. When Gavin launched the idea at a lunch at the KC he announced that while Jilly would walk the lion’s share with Flo, he would also be taking their kennelmates along to relieve them for sections of the walk. But Gavin pointed out that when Jilly did miss the odd section she was not happy being left out of the limelight.

Charity was what this event was about, but a clear message was being sent out that pedigree dogs are fit for function – Bulldogs, Neapolitans, Mastiffs and Pekes were all walking freely and every step.

Walkers came from right across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Jersey – some leaving home in the middle of the night to join Gavin and Amelia when they set off at 8am each morning.

Alfie and I took part in the final leg of the walk on Friday through central London. I joined the walk at Hyde Park on what was a beautiful day. I genuinely felt privileged to be part of such a well-executed and successful event, and it was great to see the way the general public reacted to our dogs – after all, dogs are a pretty rare sight in central London.

Dog Lost received £17,150, from left to right DogLosts’s Nik Oakley and CEO Harry Croydon, DogLost founder Jayne Hayes, helpers Dee Ford and Nicolette King, Dog World’s Stuart Baillie and Gavin Robertson

My colleague Simon Parsons says: “Having been lucky enough to do a stint on Jilly’s Jaunt on the final day, I think the part that impressed me most was that so many people from so many breeds had been able to get involved. Many of these were breeds which need a bit of a boost, either suffering the indignity of being on the ‘high profile’ list, or through their lack of numbers.

“The whole event seemed to catch the imagination of the entire dog-showing community – not just in the UK but in other countries as the list of donors and sponsors indicates.”

Gavin told me today that when he first conceived the idea he thought he might manage to raise £25,000 but never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined how big and successful Jilly’s Jaunt would become.

Counting things up at the end of the week some 248,348 steps were taken between Monday and Friday, 584 miles were walked by the dogs, 17,917 calories burnt, 11 blisters treated and six dogs found themselves in the Grand Union Canal.

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