Lifestyle & Human Interest

Rescue Group Warns Hikers After Too Many Dogs Collapse: Know Your Pup's Limitations


Most dogs love going on hikes. All the sights and smells offer up a tantalizing feast for the senses, and hiking with your dog can be a lot of fun.

But just as hikers need to be aware of their own fitness levels, hikers who bring their pups along need to know their pups’ fitness levels and characteristics and take them into consideration when choosing an outing.

Some breeds have a hard time breathing or enduring any amount of heat. Some are couch potatoes and can’t handle off-roading. Some of the heavier breeds are more prone to tearing up their paw pads.

When the weather improves, many rescue groups see an uptick in rescues of hikers, bikers and climbers as people get out to enjoy nature — but the Summit County Rescue Group based in Colorado has noticed another trend this year.

“Our dogs will follow us anywhere, anytime, always,” they posted on Facebook on July 10. “They don’t question our decisions, look at weather forecasts or plan how much water they need.

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“They just continue to follow us loyally until perhaps their paws are bleeding or they collapse in exhaustion. We must be the guardians of their safety if we want to prevent their suffering.

“SCRG had two dog rescues on Quandary this week. Both were exhausted, and one had torn pads. Their owners were caring people who weren’t hurting them on purpose, but they just didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.

“Learning what your dog can handle in the backcountry is part of Know Before You Go.”

Anna Debattiste, the public information officer for the group, said they usually get one rescue call about every three years for dogs — so to have two in such quick succession is concerning.

She told KCNC-TV that other counties are seeing similar increases, and it is a worrying pattern.

“Routt County recently rescued an elderly dog who fell 200 feet into Fish Creek, and Chaffee County North rescued a dog off a 14er recently,” she said. “I think it was (Mount) Harvard or (Mount) Yale,” she said. “We started collecting dog stories from other teams and every team has a dog rescue story somewhere in their history so that’s when we started noticing the trend.”

According to a comment on one of the rescue group’s posts, they haven’t always rescued dogs, but have found that if they don’t, it often compounds the issues.

“At various times in our history we have had a no-dog-rescue policy,” the comment reads. “But the reality is that if we don’t go after the dog, we may end up going after the dog and owner many hours later. Now it’s dark, the weather might be bad, and the owner might be injured or exhausted. Our mission coordinators must always make decisions about how best to juggle resources, and they do that on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes it is just better to go after the dog in the first place to prevent a worse incident later.”

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Debattiste added that sometimes the group prefers rescuing dogs because most volunteers are dog people and know the pups in need didn’t ask to be put in that position — but it’s still not fair or wise to bring a dog out on difficult terrain without knowing their limits.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re saying dogs shouldn’t hike trails where they’re allowed — just that their owners need to be considerate of the comfort and condition of their own animal so they don’t end up with an injured dog and take up valuable resources, especially since this year has already been a record-breaker for the group.

“Some dogs can do it, you just don’t want to assume that they can do it,” Debattiste said. “You should work your way up to it you know, take the dog on longer — progressively longer hikes until you figure out what they’re capable of, and some dogs are never going to be capable of a 14er hike.”

“Dogs don’t question our plan … They just follow us loyally until maybe they collapse … it’s heartbreaking to see that.”

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