A Devon man walked 120 miles across the whole county to raise money for a charity that supported his dog – a retired Ministry of Defence police sniffer dog – in his time of need.
Chris Parsons, 37, from Ivybridge, embarked on the challenge on Sunday 22nd September starting out in North Devon and finishing on Thursday 26th September – springer spaniel Atos's ninth birthday – in Wembury on the south coast.
Chris, an accounts manager, walked 120 miles and was entirely self-sufficient during the challenge, wild camping at night.
His partner, Ministry of Defence dog handler PC Claire Addems, and RPD Atos went to meet Chris at the finish line along with some other handlers and up-and-coming four-legged recruits from the Ministry of Defence Police dog unit.
Chris said: "I'd heard of the Two Moors Walk which stretches across Exmoor and Dartmoor but I wanted to walk the entire county, north to south. I did lots of research and set my course as well as stopping points where I could camp at night and ensure there was a shop or pub nearby for refreshments!
"I knew it would be a bit challenge and I wanted to push myself physically and mentally. I had to get all of the kit to ensure I was comfortable during the challenge.
"I really enjoyed the challenge and was lucky to have good weather although I did suffer from blisters and swollen ankles so I was glad to see the finish line on my final day; especially with everyone there waiting for me!"
So far, Chris has raised more than £1,600 for the Thin Blue Paw Foundation, a national dog welfare charity that supports working and retired police dogs. The charity - which issues financial grants to the owners of retired police dogs to assist with management of conditions and pay for life-saving surgery - supported RPD Atos when he ruptured both cruciate ligaments and needed two separate surgeries, costing more than £4,000 in total.
Claire said: "I'm so proud of Chris for taking on this challenge and for raising so much money for the Thin Blue Paw Foundation. Chris and Atos are the best of friends and Chris was so worried about Atos when he injured his legs and needed surgery. The charity has been an absolute lifeline for us and we were so pleased to be able to plan something and raise some money in return so they can go on to support more dogs like Atos."
Explosive search dog RPD Atos came from the Netherlands to join the Ministry of Defence and was partnered with PC Addems and stationed at AWE Burghfield in Reading, Berkshire, for five years. The duo helped to keep members of the public and public figures, like the Royals, safe at large events.
Atos was forced to retire early in 2019 after being diagnosed with chronic arthritis and developing a fear of travelling in the car.
Claire added: "Atos started to suffer from arthritis – due to the pressure he'd put on his body during his years of service – and as he got older his travel fears worsened. It was decided that Atos would retire and he then became my responsibility. The Army take care of food and medical costs during the dog's working life but, as soon as they retire, all costs become the sole responsibility of the owner."
Just a year into his retirement, in September 2020, RPD Atos ruptured his cruciate ligament during a walk. The Thin Blue Paw Foundation, a newly established charity, stepped in to help Claire and Atos, and pay for the bill; the first grant it had issued to a dog in need. When he ruptured his other cruciate ligament at the start of 2021, the charity offered to cover the costs again.
Charity trustee Kieran Stanbridge said: "Police and military police dogs have excellent care while they're in service but there's no doggy pension for them when they retire and that means that whoever takes them on when their career ends has to foot all of the bills. With many working dogs uninsurable, this can be a huge financial commitment.
"Dogs like Atos are unsung heroes and deserve to have long, happy retirements so we set up the Foundation to support them when they need help. But we can only do the work that we do thanks to the generosity of our corporate sponsors, public donors and brave fundraisers, like Chris. We'd like to say a big thank you to Chris and everyone who has donated to his fundraiser; this money will allow us to help other unsung canine heroes who have done so much for this country."
To donate to Chris's fundraising challenge visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chrisparsons-atos