We were lucky to receive early help from professional designer Lesley Nichols who donated her skills to produce excellent, eye-catching graphics, all this set us up with a professional and welcoming image. They became invaluable as the process unfolded and we increased the publicity for the event. Lesley remained patient over many months of requests from me to do various things and I am hugely grateful to her.
All along I was keen to keep the admin and bureaucracy to a minimum, there's nothing that quite knocks my enthusiasm for anything like getting bogged down in a load of worries, procedures, rules and possible problems. There were a lot of background things I thought about as we went and at times I did wonder if it was a good idea or not to promote too large a national event. In the end, it's worked out fine with only a few minor problems on the walks that the hosts sorted as they went. In this day of tedious and burdensome regulation I think we did well to get the event sorted as smoothly as it was. For that, the walk hosts who stepped up must take the credit they rightly deserve. Without the hosts, it wouldn't have been much of a schnauzerfest.
Some of the hosts and participants went way beyond offering to share their favourite walks with others: on many of the walks there were homemade cakes for humans and plenty of dog tasty treats too which were sold in exchange for donations to the fundraising.
One of the Yorkshire walks even went to the trouble of making doggy bandanas which people donated funds for.
I know that for some that hosted and took part in the weekend, it was well out of their normal activity and quite a step to put themselves forward to do this kind of thing. To everyone, I am sincerely grateful for what they have helped achieve with this.
We opted for an "honesty-box" approach to the fundraising rather than having a set-fee or fee-per dog arrangement. This was my preferred option for several reasons, but mainly in these times of economic strife, I didn't want people to be put off getting out and about enjoying time with their schnauzers, meeting others because they had to think twice about paying for it. As well as fundraising being central to the event, my other big priority, was that it must be about dogs enjoying a great weekend together. Money should never get in the way of that, walking should be a free activity after all.
I recognise that generosity takes many forms and far from always monetary and this weekend has proven that again to me.
My great friend Kate was instrumental in networking across the many groups of schnauzer friends she has that she walks with, or helps others to link up with. By September we had a good coverage of venues across the UK, with a few geographical gaps, but in the main, there were walks within a couple of hours drive of most places in the country (with the odd exception). By the Schnauzerfest Weekend there were 21 in total. There were several beach walks, country park locations, forests, and even the grounds of stately homes on the schnauzerfest map. The number attending walks varied from large groups of 40-60 dogs, to smaller, intimate gatherings of a handful of friends and dogs. Whatever the size, it didn't matter as the variety of walking locations meant that there was something within reach of those prepared to travel. There are people who like the large, noisy, convivial gathering of humans and dogs, but others for whom, a quieter, small number of participants is preferable. To me, a small walk is equally valuable in what it has contributed to Schnauzerfest.
This was one special side to the weekend, there was something for everyone along the spectrum; size didn't matter, it was the variety and number of walks that counted most when it came to participation. Offering plenty of options was key to it and again, the hosts made that work. I managed both the main Facebook page and Twitter input and there was at least one walk that came about via Twitter. It's been an interesting exercise in using social media for what turned out to be a big event and astounding in the fundraising it achieved.
By the time the weekend arrived, there was a lot of online excitement and people had really got behind both the idea of walking with others, but also the spirit of the event thrived as people realised they'd be supporting such a wonderful charity. DBARC is a small rescue, but they do a phenomenal amount of work with the animals in their care. They genuinely love those that find shelter with them, offering whatever veterinary care is required - which is costly in most cases.
As many know from reading my book and other writings, DBARC helped Susie-Belle for six months, including cataract surgery, this is an expensive procedure. On the Facebook page I shared other examples where DBARC have similarly helped schnauzers in their care. I for one, will engage with a cause when I can relate to it, this I feel happened with Schnauzerfest - wonderful schnauzer owners saw how unfortunate other schnauzers can be, through man's actions, yet equally, how kind those who work in genuinely compassionate rescues like DBARC can be.
But this comes at a high financial cost.
So the donations: they began coming in, a couple of weeks ahead of the event. We had asked for online donations, and if hosts were willing to collect donations on the day to forward them. This made it easy for people to take part without worrying about doing it online if they didn't want to, and for hosts to collect people's loose change at each walk, should they wish to donate that way. It worked perfectly. Some collected sponsorship from friends and family and there have been some generous gifts indeed made.
A few days before the event, the host of the Rye walk, our friend Mike who has also helped behind the scenes decided to do a small raffle at his walk with a handful of prizes he'd been given. As news spread of this, others donated gifts, and Mike opened it up to the entire Schnauzerfest community online. By the time of the draw, amazingly generous gifts had been donated with the top prize, a stay in a country B&B. It was remarkable how the raffle spiralled into an event in itself and Mike had a bit of an unexpected beast on his hands, admirably managed by him, which raised well over £700 alone.
I had always intended to take part in a couple of the walks, but, unforeseen circumstances have meant that I've needed to be in France for the past few weeks, so we never got to get out to any walks. However, this had a silver lining, as it meant I was available all over the weekend to man the online side of Schnauzerfest which was pretty demanding, rather exciting and surprisingly tiring! I wanted to ensure that information was kept up to date, news shared, walks promoted, questions answered and photos enjoyed. But, what was more exciting than anything was keeping an eye on the donations as they came in. I was emotionally exhausted by it all as it was such a high seeing the total climb by the hour.
So, the money: we set an optimistic target of £2000. I thought that was too high, my own thoughts were if we cleared £1000 that would be great; but then the money started coming in. So much generosity has been shown in financial terms that at the time of writing (and it's still climbing) donations have reached an astounding £5477, which with Gift Aid makes a total of £6660. It is mind-blowing how much that means to DBARC.
I have run out of words to describe what it means to me, knowing that through everyone pulling together, getting behind the idea and the spirit of the event, recognising what DBARC do and how incredible they are touches me greatly. For, without me meeting Janet a little over three years ago, her trusting me to take home her beloved foster dog Susie-Belle, I would never have thought about doing anything for a small animal rescue in Berkshire. My admiration of their work has grown and grown since then and I am committed to help them continue to help others like Susie-Belle. Now, the country's schnauzer owners also know all about DBARC, their work, their care of puppy farm survivors and other dogs who are fortunate to pass through their loving care.
I could say so much more about this event, and probably will again, but for now, I'll leave you with this video, sent to me by Carl Smallshaw, it says it all and I love it: