Walk for the Dogs

Republished here with the kind permission of the Editor of An Cosantóir, this is my article which featured in the May 2019 Edition.

Walk for the Dogs.

At the age of 19, Dermot Cosgrove had a taste for adventure, and the call of la Légion Étrangère brought him to France, over the next six years he served with great pride and distinction across the globe; including service in the First Gulf War. He even served twice in Somalia with UNTAF & UNOSOM, while there he met his fellow countrymen deployed with the Irish Defence Forces. Although he has long hung up his kepi blanc, this native of Ennis has continued to work as a security consultant for over twenty years mainly in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia; he also has combined his two lifelong loves of hiking and birdwatching into a guided tour business, where clients can avail of his expert ornithology knowledge and his vast walking wisdom by joining him on tours in Ireland and across Europe.

He is also a man with a seriously big heart ,who has since 2016 been raising money for ‘Irish Dogs for the Disabled’, and to date he has raised over thirteen thousand euros to assist this charity in their incredible work, he is currently planning and training for his next fund-raising effort. A 600km trek across Iceland in July 2019. “I first heard about ‘Irish Dogs for the Disabled’ via my sister – who fosters dogs during the socialisation phase of their training – but it was really after I decided to raise funds for them, that I learnt the real extent of fantastic work they do”. Dermot explains.

Charitable events such as his are a really important part of helping the charity achieve their mission “They don’t receive any supplementary funding from the Irish government, so they rely on fundraising and donations. Each dog, which from the time it’s born to the time is assigned to a person, costs about €15,000 – it’s a massive investment.”. His long-distance hiking efforts are worth it, as he says that “Roughly 9 out of 10 recipients of a dog are children, and they receive their assistance dog completely free of charge. So when you hear a 6 or 7-year-old say that they can’t wait to get a dog because then they can get rid of their wheelchair and walk, things hit a whole new level of importance.”

Marche ou Crève.

Dermot gained the walking bug from long days under a military pack, he explains that “I suppose my experience of long-distance walking started while I was in the French Foreign Legion. The Legion loves to walk, and walk far, and I spent quite a bit of time in both the Pyrenees and the Alps. After leaving the Legion I became more of a day hiker and bird watcher and, living in the west of Ireland, you have endless opportunities.” The slightly more sedate short hikes kept him ticking over for a while, and it was his love of birdwatching that led to his thoughts turning to ever greater distances again, “My interest in long-distance walking was rekindled in 2016 during a conversation online about geese with Huw Thomas, who is part of the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study and is an avid long-distance walker, having walked the Arctic Circle Trail and around Greenland 8 or 9 times. Huw agreed to mentor me for a solo walk of the ACT as long as I was serious.” He also decided that if he was going to be there for himself, that he might be able use the opportunity to help others as, “the trek while it was something of interest to me, and I want to try and photograph the wildlife there, I felt that I could combine that by raising funds for a good cause.” His first ‘Walk of the Dogs’ campaign in 2016/2017 raised nearly €11,000 , “The charity honoured me by naming a pup after me (Kossie), so my hope is to go one better this year and raise the full €15,000 to cover the cost of one assistance dog.”

So this intrepid adventurer has been training very hard as he intends to go further than ever before with his ‘Walk for the Dogs 2’. This is no light undertaking, this is an expedition which must be planned with military precision to ensure its success. “The planned departure date is now the 5th July of 2019 and with the aim of walking from the Northern most point on mainland Iceland at Rifstangi, 3kms below the Arctic Circle, to the Southern most point at Dyrholaey near the town of Vik.” The route is now close to 600kms and will make use of the F Road network for the most part with the final section using two of Iceland’s most famous hiking trails the Laugavegur & Fimmvorduhals trails. Although Iceland during the summer is often called ‘the land of the midnight sun’ due to the extremely long hours of daylight, with full darkness not present for some months, it is still a wild place which so close to the Arctic circle can experience extreme weather at short notice, which can challenge even the most prepared and experienced hikers, Dermot explains that “Because these trails can sometimes be shut due to bad weather (blizzards can happen even in July) a backup route has been mapped out and plans are in place to meet the unexpected. The current plan is to complete the route in three weeks or slightly more including rest days.”

A Helping Paw.

All the funds raised from completing this Herculean effort across the remote Icelandic landscape will go directly to ‘Dogs for the Disabled’, this a unique charity founded in 2007 in Cork, to improve the lives of children and adults living with physical disabilities in Ireland. Jennifer Dowler CEO, outlines that “they deliver approximately 25 fully trained assistance dogs each year to their profoundly disabled partners”. They do this incredible work while operating on a budget of circa €300,000 per year. They have five core staff and the rest of their team is made up of dedicated and selfless volunteers. This charitable body has developed a unique Assistance Dog Stability Programme for children, with their long-term vision is to have a global reach by replicating our Assistance Dog Stability Programme around the world. Jennifer says that “The charity supports each of these wonder dogs for their entire life – from birth through to retirement, and while they ensure the highest standards possible in running an ethical breeding and training programme – breeding and training all their own dogs in-house.” They also work with the Irish Prison Service whereby inmates are actively involved in taking care and training of our pups, which has given great results in rehabilitation of prisoners. Their goal is powerful yet simple, to continue serving and helping the most vulnerable in society.

Broadcaster Deirdre O’ Shaughnessy is volunteer Charity Director who is passionate about the services provided by ‘Dogs for the Disabled’ and she feels strongly that people like Dermot who undertake these events to support the charity are “Fantastic, they are seriously committed people”; she also states that charities have had a hard time in the recent past when it comes to funding, so “we take our responsibilities as Directors very seriously.” Chairman of the Charities Board, over seeing all this important work is Dr. Tom Clonan; journalist, author and noted security analyst. This former Defence Forces Captain and United Nations Peacekeeper has a deep personal connection with this charities work, his son Eoghan, suffers from a rare neuromuscular disease. “He is a bright, happy boy, an inquisitive teenager and a great big brother – who happens to use a wheelchair and be legally blind”, Eoghan has an assistance dog called ‘Duke’ and Dr. Clonan describes the impact of Duke on Eoghans life “as simply transformative, for the entire family really” It was a chance passing of one of charities vans which lead to Dr. Clonan applying for an assistance dog for Eoghan, and he has been involved now for many years trying to help those who have helped his family so much. Dr. Clonan says that “without people like Dermot, it would not be possible to help so many families. They are real life heroes”.

Foot Notes:
You can follow Dermots adventure on Twitter @dermotcosgrove and his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/walk4thedogs; ; there he plans to post regular updates throughout the walk. You can also donate by following this link: https://give.everydayhero.com/ie/walk-for-the-dogs-2

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