Ahead of the first-ever Canicross event in the UAE on February 12 we spoke with the passionate animal empath and the founder of HK9 Adventures Husain Darwish. Even before we got into the conversation he clarified, “HK9 isn’t a business it’s an expression of my love for dogs.”
So, here’s a background about Darwish who grew up surrounded by pets. “I don’t even know of how life must be without pets,” he says with a smile. His love for dogs ultimately led him to start a business with canine companions at heart. It’s a journey that started 12 years ago when Darwish first went hiking with his dog Chaka. “He was my hiking companion for years until crossing the rainbow bridge,” Darwish fondly recollects.
Then their foster fail Max started hiking with him. But now Max easily gets exhausted due to an injury, so prefers a quieter paced life. But Violet who Darwish rescued during the pandemic is his regular hiking buddy. There are Lana and Lilly too who are part of the pack, along with Mr. Jackson (our rescued African parrot) and Mr. Bobby (our rescued giant African tortoise). It’s for a reason that Darwish’s inner circle fondly call him “Mowgli.”
Also read: Why is RAK becoming cool for canine?
Tell us a bit about the early days of HK9.
It really started as a personal endeavour among my family and friends who are similarly crazy about dogs. We used to regularly scout for off the beaten track places to hike with our dogs amid nature. As people got to know they started asking us how they could take their dogs for hikes too. There are many things to factor in during such hikes – from scouting for safe spots to terrain, weather, proper gear etc. So, at a certain point we thought why don’t we take these people with us? That’s how we first started in 2015 with HK9 Ultimate Challenge. From that first group of 84 we ended up with 240 challengers in 2020 just before the pandemic hit.
How did HK9 evolve over the years?
In 2020 we decided to launch the HK9 Adventure Series to take smaller group of people for hikes and enjoy outdoor activities with their dogs. Like us there are many other people who are really passionate about doing outdoor activities with their dogs and we had to think of a way to engage with them. One thing after another now we are gearing up for our first Canicross event tomorrow. It will be the first of its kind 6-kilometre off-road race for dogs and their humans right here in the UAE.
Could you give us a behind the scenes view from the adventures?
I don’t even know where to start. Behind every successful hike, run, challenge our team (including Keri Moniz, Matt Wilson, Ana Bapista, Ritesh Gandhi, Steven Summers, Jenny Moore, Jeenal Patel , Daniel Waterhouse, Audry Truchi and others) puts in a huge amount of work. It starts with multiple scouting trips, usually with Violet, to find the right spot where we can take the human-dog groups. We also must determine which areas are safe for off-leash activities and where the dogs must always be on the leash. We’ve to be extremely careful about wildlife in such locations and take every conceivable precautions. On the day of every event, we have a battalion of support from veterinary doctors and nurses to emergency care units and team leaders ensuring everything goes off well.
Have you ever had any incidents?
Thankfully, we’ve never had any unfortunate incidents. But I must say that sometimes we’ve noticed that humans tend to push their dogs to go from one point to another even if they are slightly exhausted. So, there have been incidents when we’ve had to carry some bog dogs back to the basecamp. But you know even that experience is fulfilling, because we are doing every event for our love for dogs. Even to honour those who eventually grew wings like our Chaka.
Do you see dog-human bond strengthening after such events?
Its inexplicable how we see dog-human bonds strengthen with every such event. Having had dogs of my own for years, each different from the other, I’ve felt my bond getting stronger with them after every such outdoor activity. Its simple, such events are all about teamwork and the dog and his/her human must be well-coordinated with each other emotionally and physically. Some things must be trained like walking on the leash and following hand-eye signals, but a lot is also instinctive. I’ve seen how relaxed, yet alert dogs are after these hikes, walks, runs. And I must mention we see every sized dog, from chihuahuas to great danes, at our events. We also see tripawds enjoying these outdoor activities.
Do you collaborate with animal welfare shelters to raise awareness about adopting rescues?
I’m glad you brought this up. We regularly team up with rescue shelters such as K9 Friends, Ras Al Khaimah Animal Welfare Centre and UAQ Stray Dogs Center for ‘adopt a dog for a day’ programme. Through this programme we get the beautiful rescues out of the shelters for a day in the hope of getting them a forever home. So, what happens is humans who don’t have a dog of their own can bring a rescue on a hike from these shelters. Over the years we have seen more than 35 dogs get adopted due to this programme. And nothing gives us more joy than doing dog-human matchmaking (Darwish and his partner say with a broad smile).
Finally, what is that one crazy thing that you will do for the love of dogs?
I do many crazy things already. But if I were to narrow it down to one, I’ll do what it takes to create a culture wherein you can take your dogs anywhere with you – be it for a hike or something else. Like I said before, HK9 isn’t a business it’s an expression of my love for dogs.