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Pet police will keep watch on canicross competitions

By David Davies

NEW LAWS designed to protect pets in England and Wales will require canicrossers to make sure their dogs are not abused or neglected either during training or in races.
   The main organisers of canicross in the UK – the Trail Runners and CaniX – already have strict rules to ensure dogs do not suffer during events.
   The only other sport in Britain where runners and animals compete alongside each other is the famed Man versus Horse race across 23 miles of hillside around Llanwrtyd Wells in

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   Since the event's beginnings 30 years ago the RSPCA has kept a friendly eye on the race to ensure horses do not come to harm. 
   The new legislation has not created an army of enforcers.  The "pet police" will continue to be concerned members of the public who are not afraid to phone the authorities..
   "The public are still our eyes and ears when it comes to reporting any concerns of animal cruelty or neglect," said Rebecca Hawkes of the RSPCA.
   It may sound bizarre to think that fast-moving animals like dogs and horses could suffer in a race against or alongside slow-moving Man and Woman.
   The two main risks are heat – dangerous for dogs and horses - and lack of fitness for the event. I confess to giving a dog a hard time a few years ago by taking him on a 15-mile run that he was not ready for.
   The dog, a long-legged terrier called Webster, belonged to my ex-wife. I regularly picked him up for five-mile runs, which he enjoyed. The 15-mile run came when I started training for a half-marathon.
   Webster ran out of energy and the run became an ordeal for him. After that, whenever he saw me in running gear, he would hide under the bed.
   No matter how fit they may look, you cannot assume that sedentary pet dogs are up to long distances.
   As well as the risks from heat and accidental over-exertion, there is a third danger: that of deliberately imposing demands on dogs that can kill them or permanently damage their health.
   That may sound unlikely until you read about the scandals surrounding the annual 1,150-mile Iditarod sled race in Alaska. Three dogs died in this year's event and musher Ramy Brooks was disqualified for beating his dogs when two of them refused to get up after a stop.
   Now Jennifer O'Connor, who writes for PETA
– People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals –  has exposed years of abuse behind the glamour of the Iditarod, in which winningdogs are expected to cover more than 100 miles a day for 10 days – often in appalling conditions.
   It is an event in which humans get all the glory and dogs do all the work.
   Dogs have given us the word dogged. Dictionaries define dogged as "very determined to do something, even if it is very difficult," as "tenacious," as "stubborn" and as being "unwilling to give up". The Iditarod exploits those qualities to the limit and sometimes beyond.
   In her article, O'Connor reveals that at least 133 dogs have died in the race since records began – and that does not include dogs who die in training or after the race; 61 percent of the dogs who finish develop gastric ulcers caused by “sustained strenuous exercise”; 81 percent suffer lung damage.
   The new Animal Welfare Act for England and Wales imposes a duty of care on pet owners. That means providing a suitable place for them to live, proper feeding, the opportunity to express normal behaviour, and protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
   Offenders can be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and face a maximum prison sentence of 51 weeks.
   The protection regulations will fit well with rules already in place for canicross. For example, the Trail Runners say: "Go at your dog's pace. Your dog's condition should dictate your training regime. Check with your vet!"  Read more about the Trail Runners rules by clicking here.
   Similar advice comes from CaniX. They are holding a 13-miles race across Salisbury Plain on May 6.  Entrants have to declare that dogs doing the 13 miles are over two years old and have been pronounced fit by a vet.
   Runners have to carry a minimum of one litre of water plus a dog bowl.
Women lead in New Forest race
WOMEN runners outnumbered men by three to one at the Trail Runners New Forest event at Bolderwood on February 24th.
   They also produced the fastest times.  Anna Jennings romped home overall first in 27 minutes and 23 seconds, fast enough to force her lurcher to break into a run.
   Its always embarrassing for human canicrossers when they are running flat out and their canine companions are keeping up easily at a comfortable walk.    No such problem for Anna, though!
   CLICK here for a full report and pictures plus the results in detail.
   And for a report and pictures of the Delamere Forest event in Cheshire on March 25th CLICK here.
   It looks as if 2007 will be a bumper year for canicross in the UK.    Races and other canicross events this year are planned in the New Forest, the Forest of Dean, Delamere Forest Park in Cheshire, Salisbury Plain and
   Windsor Great Park.
   Events are taking place in  April, May, August and September - with more  races  likely to be added to the list before long. CLICK here for details of all the races organised so far for 2007.
   One particularly exciting race will be the CaniX "Neolithic Half Marathon" across Salisbury Plain in May, which will offer a choice of distances, making it suitable for the timid as well as the tough.
   At the Wag and Bone Show  in Windsor Great Park in August the Canicross Trail Runners will stage a "treasure trail" with prizes to be won.
   Then in September the Trail Runners are staging a day of events that will include canicross,  dog grooming demos and caniteering.
   Caniteering combines canicross with orienteering and provides dogs and owners with ample opportunities to get lost.
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