Life is so much better when you have a loyal dog by your side to keep you company.Just ask Christopher Lewis, a veteran who is raising money for charity by walking along the UK coastline — with his loving rescue dog by his side every step of the way.
They’ve been on their journey together for years, and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for an important cause.
Their inspiring story has a sad beginning: Chris, who served as a paratrooper in the British army, struggled with homelessness after leaving the service in 2004.
“Life after leaving the regiment, as with many soldiers who leave, I struggled,” Chris said, according to Daily Mail.
Chris was also a single parent, raising a daughter. But after facing homelessness, he found support in SSAFA, a UK charity that provides support to veterans. Their support was life-changing.
“SSAFA showed me there were people out there that were going to be there for me,” he told The Guardian. “Their support was so personal.”
“If it hadn’t been for SSAFA, I don’t know where we’d be now,” he told Belfast Live. “I was terrified of losing my daughter to social services, not because of my parenting, but because of the situation we ended up in. It wasn’t good but it came good thanks to the support.”
Four years ago, Chris decided to give back to the charity that helped him out by raising money for SSAFA. To do so, he decided to set out and walk the entire coast line of the UK, accepting donations through a JustGiving page.
His mission has been a success: he has credited his adventure with improving his mental wellbeing by traveling and meeting new people. But a few months into his journey, he realized he needed a companion.
And in Scotland, he found the perfect partner: a stray dog named Jet. “She was thin, and a bit sad and shy,” Chris said. “I knew she hadn’t been well looked after, but we seemed to recognise something in each other and we hit it off immediately.”
“Looking back now I can see that I was still a little bit broken and she was too. She just followed me and that was that.”
Jet has since proved to be a fiercely loyal companion, accompanying Chris on every leg of his years-long walking journey.
“All these miles later, she’s still by my side, sleeping in tents, meeting new people, being gentle, kind, strong and determined, making everything worthwhile. I’m so proud to call Jet my dog and my best friend, I’m so proud of all she has achieved and how she has always stuck by my side no matter what, including the weather conditions.”
Later, Chris found another important companion to share his journey: his girlfriend Kate Barron, who has joined his walk.
Their love has made a world of difference to Chris, who began his journey alone but has realized how important these relationships are: “To think I started my walk around the UK coast nearly four years ago alone, just me, my bag and a lot of uncertainty,” he told Belfast Live.
“It was only really when Jet started to walk with me that I started to realise how much companionship means to me and helps me.”
Their adventure has been a huge success. Chris and Jet have inspired countless people on their journey, and their fundraising page currently has £246,305 (over $335,000 USD), more than double their original goal. They now hope to raise half a million pounds by the end of their journey.
August marked the beginning of Chris’ fifth year on the road. He hopes to not only raise money for the SSAFA, but to bring awareness to the charity and encourage fellow vets to reach out for help.
“It has not been an easy few years for us all and I really want to speak to those who suffer in silence and let you know I truly am living proof that life can be turned around,” he said. “Please know you’re not alone in how you feel at this moment and I have no shame at all showing you at my worst because I’m proud to have picked myself back up.