By Christie Long
Last weekend my family and I sumnmited our first fourteener, Gray’s Peak in Summit County.
Lots of folks were on the trail that day, and quite a few had dogs with them. Most of the dogs we saw were in great shape, many carrying doggie “packs” and having no trouble with the trail or the altitude. The summit was a veritable dog party, with lots of canines running to and fro, seemingly celebrating their victory over the mountain.
But there were lots of dogs, and lots of people, for that matter, that had no business attempting to climb a mountain that day. Some dogs were wheezing, others were gingerly picking their way through the scree fields, while others sat by the trail trying to catch their breath.
I was reminded of the widely publicized story from last summer of the German shepherd named Missy that was left on the top of Mount Bierstadt, another of Colorado’s fourteeners, by her owner. The dog suffered injuries to her foot pads while hiking and was unable to come down the mountain. She ended up staying on the mountain for eight days, until a group of experienced hikers heard about her, organized a rescue party and brought her down the mountain in a backpack. She was dehydrated and very hungry, but she made a full recovery.
The owner claimed that because he also had children with him on his hike, and he was worried that the weather was worsening, he could not bring Missy down the mountain. He was ultimately charged with animal cruelty and lost his dog, not because he didn’t bring her down the mountain, but because he made no real effort to go back up for her.
Climbing mountains is risky business on the best of days. Not all dogs are in adequate physical condition for it. Dogs with respiratory issues or heart disease should definitely be left at home.
Dogs with arthritis or other chronic pain problems are also unfit for this kind of physical challenge. If you’re unsure of your dog’s health status, it’s worth a trip to the veterinarian for a checkup.
If you decide to bring your dog with you, be prepared. Carry a first aid kit that contains bandage material in case your dog cuts a paw on the sharp rocks that litter these mountainsides. Dogs can be trained to wear specially-made booties that protect the paws from sharp rocks, and these would be an ideal addition to a first aid kit.
Be sure to take enough food and water for both you and your dog. And remember to always keep your dog on a leash. Most trails that permit dogs require this anyway, and you’re taking a big risk if you don’t.
Have at least a rough idea of a plan, should your dog become injured and need to be rescued. Hiking with a partner is ideal, so that one person can stay with the dog while the other goes for help.
Dogs can enjoy Colorado’s mountains just as much as their owners, but they rely on us to keep them safe.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.