When Christopher Lewis completed his service in the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, he found adjusting to civilian life and being a single parent immensely challenging. At one point, Lewis and his daughter faced homelessness, and he worried he might lose her because of their circumstances.
Fortunately, SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, helped Lewis and his daughter get through this. After the organization helped him during his lowest moments, he decided to give back while also finding a new purpose.
For five years now, Lewis has been walking the UK coastline. He’s been using this journey to spread awareness of—and raise money for—SSAFA. More than finding a new purpose, Lewis found his best friend and travel companion along the way: a rescue dog named Jet.
Jet Joins The Walk
Loneliness can make enduring mental health issues even more challenging. People recommended Lewis adopt a dog for companionship while he spent all his days on the road. Lewis told Belfast Live:
“As I left Northern Ireland I was told I needed a special dog to keep me company, to help keep on top of my mental health, to boost my emotional health and simply to be able to rely on another living being who’d never judge me.”
After nine months in Scotland, Lewis came across Jet the Greyhound mix in Ayrshire. Right away, there was this connection between the two. It seemed like they needed each other.
“She was thin, and a bit sad and shy. I knew she hadn’t been well looked after, but we seemed to recognize 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.”
Having spent time in the Army, Chris was used to always being around people, having a team. For the first time on this journey, he found himself alone. It became apparent that Jet’s companionship on his long walk meant a great deal to him.
“And it was only really when Jet started to walk with me that I started to realize how much companionship means to me and helps me.”
A Travel Companion Who Never Complains
Having Jet by his side makes this ongoing undertaking feel easier. Impressively, Jet doesn’t mind the walking or the constant changing of locations. She meets new people all the time, and everyone loves her.
“Now 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.”
Sometimes the weather is poor, and the terrain is rough. Lewis never pushes Jet, but she’s always ready and willing to travel the same routes that he is. When she isn’t, he’ll give her the breaks she needs, carry her, or find other ways to make walking more comfortable.
“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. She just got stuck in and trusted me and I trusted her. What a beautiful animal she is, no dog has ever walked as much of the UK coast as my Jet.”
Lewis added that Jet deserves a lot of credit for enduring this long walk with him. She’s a strong and patient girl!
“Apart from the people who have been there and walked parts of it with us, I’m honestly not sure if people really understand what Jet has accomplished and the effort she has put into walking all the islands and coast of Scotland through the most brutal winters.”
A Family On The Road
Though he once started out on his cross-continental journey solo, Lewis now has two invaluable companions with him: Jet and his partner Kate. Kate was an easy addition to Lewis and Jet’s team and now joins them in their travels.
“To think I started my walk around the UK coast nearly four years ago alone, just me, my bag and a lot of uncertainty. I’ve met thousands of people and animals along my walk, and I’m so happy to be able to say that, but I haven’t met any like these two.”
They say dogs are good judges of character, and Jet could tell right away that Kate was a keeper.
“When I met her I knew it was special and when Jet loved her right away, that was that. I’m proud to be her man, she’s absolutely one in a billion, my true soul mate and with Jet, we are now a team, a strong one at that.”
As the three of them travel this long distance, Lewis hopes people will see that healing from mental illness is difficult but possible with support. And of course, Lewis hopes people will donate to SSAFA so they can help others in the situation he found himself in. So far, he has raised £206,000 (~$280,700) for SSAFA.
“Now me, Jet and Kate are ready for the rest of our challenge and we dedicate it to you, all the people and dogs who need help but can’t ask for it yet. Accept it and let it come.”