Five-year-old Harley is wearing a sparkly, red bow tie. His brown eyes peer out from under his black, curly hair. He is lined up and ready to begin a relay race with his friends, clearly excited about the activities about to start on this cool, spring morning.
He barks to let others know he’s ready.
Harley is a labradoodle.
He is one of about 50 dogs, and 40 owners, taking part in the 30th anniversary celebration of Saturday Morning Dog Walks.
There is a wide range of participants, from dogs of all ages and breeds, to dog owners who are attending for the first time and others who have been at it for 30 years.
Pam Peters and Dorothy Severn started the informal walks with their dogs — at the time Peters owned Barney, a German shepherd, and Severn had Tory, a schipperke.
It’s not an obedience class. It’s not an off-leash gathering. It’s a place where dogs and owners can meet others to develop friendships, and where the dogs can build trust and courage with their four-legged friends.
“It’s about confidence building,” says Peters. “It helps settle down reactive dogs, it boosts morale of shy dogs, and they learn to behave themselves in a group environment.”
Nancy Meier has been part of the group for 25 years. She now comes each week with dogs Rosie and Haxlee.
“It’s so good for the dogs,” she says. “I had a really shy Bernese mountain dog. I knew she was afraid of everything, but within two to three walks, she opened up.”
Doug Leight has also been with the dog-walking group for 25 years, since he was just five years old. His mother, Darlene, was the one who brought him here.
“My mom said I grew up on a leash,” he laughs.
He no longer lives in Chilliwack, but today he’s here with his children and Pepper, a rescue dog, to celebrate the anniversary.
“She’s so tame around these dogs,” says Leight of Pepper.
He and his mother have brought several dogs to the weekly walks. Before Pepper, there was Trusty, Dallas, Spirit and Glory.
With three generations of his family participating in the Saturday Morning Dog Walks, Leight has a warm place in his heart for the gathering itself and the people he’s met along the way.
“They’re my family,” he says. “I’ve met so many people over the years. They raised me.”
“I planned my wedding around the dog walk,” he adds.
Margaret Laurie is here for the first time. She’s with her three whippets, Destry, an eight-year-old St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog, Perry, a 10-month-old pooch who’s bold and brave, and six-month-old Martin, the cautious one.
Martin had problems in a dog park and was unsure of other dogs around him. Laurie had seen the dog-walking group for a while and figured it might be a smart idea to bring Martin.
“We drive by on Saturdays often, and I thought it would be good to join,” she says.
Although here for the first time, Laurie and her dogs are welcomed just as warmly as those who have been coming for decades.
It was Easter weekend in 1983 when founders, Peters and Severn, held their first dog walk. Thirty years later, Peters is here with her 14-year-old border collie, Charlie, and Severn is walking six-year old Mimi, a papillon.
The dogs and their owners have just finished the day’s activities. Prizes are being handed out to mark the anniversary.
Pepper, still abuzz being around so many new friends and a flurry of excitement, sits patiently at Doug Leight’s feet.
Leight loves “the camaraderie, the dogs, the people, (and) the joy” of the Saturday Morning Dog Walks.
“And the difference in the dogs,” he says looking down at Pepper with a smile.
Dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds are welcome to join the group, as long as they are on leash, have up-to-date shots, and are under control. Owners are reminded to bring plastic bags and clean up after their dog.
There’s no cost to join, and there’s no official membership. The group doesn’t have a website or a contact number — they simply meet every Saturday at 10 a.m. at Central elementary school.