Dog owners are being urged to arrange pup-dates in their local community on June 23rd in memory of Jo Cox
The #GreatDogWalkTogether event is part of the Great Get Together Weekend set up by the Jo Cox Foundation for people to celebrate what they have in common.
Jo was Labour MP for Batley and Spen in Yorkshire and was killed on June 16th 2016 while working in her constituency and events are taking place across the country between June 22nd and 24th, which would have been her 44th birthday.
In her first speech to Parliament, she said: “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us,” and it’s this sentiment that’s behind the initiative to bring dog owners together.
For some people, a four legged friend is their only companion and that’s dog walkers are urged to take part and help people affected by loneliness and isolation.
We spoke to one of Jo’s old school friends, Louise Woollard, 44, who is taking part in the event with her dog, Golden Doodle Otis, aged two.
How did you know Jo?
“I’ve been friends with Jo since I was around seven years old. We met a junior school and attended the same secondary school. We’ve been close friends throughout our lives sharing our teenage years, university experiences and holidays in the sun.
“Jo’s career took her overseas but we still maintained a close friendship. She loved coming home to Yorkshire and being with her family and friends.”
You have a gorgeous Golden Doodle, Otis. Did Jo meet him?
“No, sadly, Jo was murdered a month after we got Otis. Jo’s hectic life and the travelling early on in her career wasn’t compatible with having a pet. However, she loved the outdoors and walking.
“Jo was also very passionate about loneliness and how we could help others to be less socially isolated. She understood the importance of having a pet and how this enabled those who were socially isolated to interact with others.
“They add a meaning and purpose to life which can often be missing.”
I can’t imagine what it must have been like losing Jo. How did you cope?
“After Jo’s murder I struggled with my emotions and walking Otis really helped. Being out in the fresh air and talking to strangers enabled me to try and deal with what had happened.
“It also helped me to stop constantly thinking about what had happened. I lost my dad three months to the day after Jo had died and so emotionally 2016 was a very difficult time for me.”
So Otis has been a huge support to you?
“Yes, in the months after Jo’s murder the walks I took with Otis were a massively important. Having a pet, particularly one you have to walk, gives people a reason to get out of bed.
“I have my own Financial Planning business so I take him to work with me and now have a reason not to sit behind a desk all day. My clients also love meeting Otis when they come to the office and he’s an important part of the team.”
Being a dog owner means you naturally get chatting to other people which is what the More In Common Initiative is all about
“Yes, in addition to the health benefits of walking, you’re interacting with other dog owners. People say hello to each other and often forge friendships based on a shared love of their dogs.
“The unconditional love of a dog is such a rewarding experience and one which the whole family can benefit from.”
How do you think Jo would feel about The Great Get Together events?
“Jo would’ve loved the idea. She wouldn’t believe that so many people had been moved to try and make their communities a better place after her death.
“Jo would be gobsmacked about her legacy. She was one of the most modest people you could meet and wouldn’t want to take any of the credit for starting the projects which have ultimately become her legacy.
“She was a proud Yorkshire lass and I’m so proud that she was part of my life.
“By embracing what was important to Jo and keeping her spirit alive we can ensure that our communities are more inclusive and enjoyable places to live.”
Great Dog Walk Together events are taking place all over the UK on June 23rd
You can find an event near you or even organise your own.
Elaine Brown, a dog lover and owner of Rupert, a 13-year-old Westie, came up with the idea for the walks.
She said: “What makes it so great is the number of walks taking place and the more walks the better. You’re never alone when you have a dog.
“You don’t need a dog to take part. It would be great for us to help people who don’t have one to enjoy the company of dogs. An elderly person who is at home more would be a great companion for a dog who is left at home when their owner is working.
“We really hope this is the start of encouraging people to arrange regular dog walks so people can get out, start a conversation and make friends.”