A VIP’S pet performed the honours launching an annual hospice fundraiser in a display of dogged determination.

Molly, the four-year-old collie-cross of mayor and mayoress of Darlington Chris and Amanda McEwan, helped launch registrations for the St Teresa’s Hospice Bark in the Park event, which again has been hounded by the global pandemic.

Hospice organisers have made the popular spectacle virtual for the second year running, ever-conscious of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of packing into Darlington’s South Park en masse, as in pre-pandemic years, fundraisers are being asked to join a virtual challenge any time from Friday April 30 to Monday May 3.

Pets and their well-behaved owners are invited to complete a sponsored dog walk either around South Park, following the traditional Bark in the Park route, or in their local area.

Participants must follow current Government guidance on COVID-19 and should complete their walk within their social bubbles.

Dogs will be given a St Teresa’s Hospice bandana and owners will receive matching ears to wear during their walk.

On the South Park route there will be a treasure hunt with entry to a special prize draw for the doggies who find the most booty.

Sponsored by pet store Jollyes Darlington, a small entry fee of just £10 covers a family of up to four people and includes a sponsor pack, ears and bandana.

To register online visit www.darlingtonhospice.org.uk/bark-in-the-park.

Now in its sixth year, Bark in the Park has raised £50,000 for the  hospice since being launched in 2016.

Coun McEwan said: “We last took part two years ago and it was an excellent event. It is great to see St Teresa’s Hospice carrying on this tradition, adapting so well to the challenging conditions, to raise as much money as possible for a great cause.

“We are looking forward to being out with Molly, who we got four years ago after many years of not having a pet. She is certainly proving to be a great aid to our physical and mental wellbeing in difficult times.”

St Teresa’s Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw added: “Bark in the Park is one of my absolute favourite events of the year and, despite the unusual circumstances, we hope as many pets as possible will take part and really enjoy rising to the challenge.

“We hope that as the lockdown restrictions ease and the spring weather picks up our amazing community will continue to support us and help us come through these unprecedented times.”

St Teresa’s Hospice needs to raise £3m a year to provide free in-patient and community care for people living with life-limiting illnesses and their families in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

The pandemic struck hard with the majority of conventional fundraising events having to be cancelled and the temporary closure of its chain of popular charity shops.

An emergency appeal, launched at the start of the pandemic, is still running and donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/campaign/hugtostts.