Dog day on the trot

There were big dogs and small dogs; a posse of German Shepherds, a flotilla of basset hounds circling like so many tug boats, a regal Irish Wolfhound, a silky Pekinese without a hair out of place; a short-legged black Scottie with a fringe, terriers, collies, Jackies, Yorkies …

Invited by Rotary, Homemakers and Owlag, the Henley dogs and their people had come out to play.

This was the first of, no doubt, many a Walk a Dog Day, a 5km walk around Henley on Klip to raise funds for Balls An’ All, an NPO which sterilises dogs and assists with primary health care for pets – and introduce the girls of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (Owlag) to the village and its inhabitants.

At the start in the Owlag parking lot, I paid my R50 donation while my German Shepherd partner got acquainted with others of her breed and exchanged sniffs and greetings with the basset hound contingent. Then we were off.

At the school’s entrance we were thronged by eager schoolgirls, some advancing to say hello, others drawing back in fright. “Our girls need to socialise more with animals,” mentor and teacher Thomas Tervit explained. “Some have animals at home and really miss them, others are terrified.”

My canine partner, placid and sociable with people (not quite so much with dogs), was happy to be adored and have her leash held by strangers, although she looked back anxiously if I got too far behind. With athletic schoolgirls setting the pace, we moved off at a good clip.

In our short time in Henley on Klip, we have seen little of the school although we live close by. The girls, all from disadvantaged backgrounds and specially chosen by American TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey to be educated to reach their potential, are seldom allowed to leave their ultra-modern and well-equipped campus. Some of them were seeing and walking Henley’s pretty, picturesque streets for the first time.

“It’s historic,” Tervit explained. “In the beginning, Oprah Winfrey was afraid her girls would be victimised, or even held for ransom, so security was tight. It hasn’t happened and now, gradually, the barriers between community and school are easing. Owlag girls regularly assist on community clean-up days, for example.”

They also took part in last year’s WAM (Wine, Art and Music) festival concert. The next is coming up on September 8 and 9, another happening that is becoming an annual event.

Certainly, Walk a Dog Day set a good precedent. Many of the girls ended up being taken for an energetic walk by their charges while the regular dog walkers strolled behind chatting. The girls also assisted as marshals at street corners with Rotary members and teachers. The Hound and Molly’s Speakeasy supplied water bowls along the route and some tired dogs were given lifts in escort vehicles. Basset hounds have short legs, remember!

It was a cheerful community day and good fun all round. See you next year!

For more Henley Hoopoe News see www.henley-on-klip.co.za