Hiking with Rover | VailDaily.com

Hiking with Rover

J.K. Perry

Preston Utley/Vail DailyJudy Axelrod, of Vail hops across rocks as she hikes the North Trail with her dogs Nelly, in white and Willy Friday, Sept., 2 2005, in Vail, CO.

EAGLE COUNTY – Murphy, a yellow Labrador, fell into the mouth of an abandoned well two years ago hiking a snow field near Camp Hale.The dog, now 4 years old, disappeared 40 yards ahead of master Kam Rope. Murphy had crashed through pieces of timber before splashing into the icy water below. Rope rushed to the well, dropping to her stomach to rescue Murphy.”I had to use superhuman strength to throw her out of the water,” Rope said. “I learned a lesson not to run in an open snow field.”Like many other dog owners in the valley, Rope often hikes with Murphy. “If I say certain words like ‘We’re going for a hike’ or ‘We’re going swimming,’ (Murphy) gets excited,” Rope said. “She’ll be wagging her tail and look like she’s smiling.”But along with companionship, local animal control officials say, comes keeping dogs in good physical shape and leashed in certain areas, and being alert for encounters with bears, mountain lions and other wildlife.Backcountry confrontationsToni Axelrod and her 45-pound black poodle, Lucy, often hike Edwards’ East and West Lake Creek trails. Axelrod said she rarely puts a leash on Lucy, though dogs in are required to be on a leash in national forests.

“”Lucy loves to hike,” she said. “She just follows me so I don’t have to worry about her getting in the way.” She brings a leash and tries to avoid other dogs by hiking less-traveled trails and staying out of the backcountry when it’s busy, she said.But other hikers have been complaining about unleashed dogs, The U.S. Forest Service has received dozens of complaints by phone, e-mail and from people walking into ranger stations, said Cal Wettstein, the head forest ranger in Eagle County.”One of the biggest problems we’ve been having in the backcountry is people vs. dog confrontations,” Wettstein said. “We’re seeing more and more people using the trails in the backcountry, more and more dogs out there and more and more dogs off the leash. Most are well behaved, but some aren’t.”Although Wettstein has not heard of a dog biting and attacking a person, some aggressive behavior by dogs has scared some people, he said.”If it continues we’ll have to ban dogs on the trail,” Wettstein said. “We don’t want to go there, but if we have to, we will.”Cheryl Jensen, owner of golden retriever Jasper, said she once ran into a man near Breckenridge led by two unleashed dogs that became aggressive. Despite his own dogs’ behavior, the man told her to leash Jasper to avoid a conflict. Jensen leashes her dog in wilderness areas, she said. Getting in shape

When hikers hit the wilderness with their dog, owners should bring plenty of water, a collapsible water bowl and food, and also consider the weather as well as the breed and color of the dog, said Char Quinn, director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society.A large dog can carry its own water in saddle bags, she said.”Many people don’t realize how far they’re going and how much a dog can take,” said Quinn.Owners also should “train” dogs to get them in shape for longer or more strenuous hikes. Dogs take time to adjust to the high altitude, so the difficulty of hikes should increase gradually said Lee Bendel, Vail Mountain Rescue volunteer and rescue-dog trainer.Owners should also make sure the pads on the bottoms of a dog’s feet are hardened, Quinn said. “Taking dogs in certain areas you have to watch the pads of their feet,” Quinn said, adding a dog won’t want to walk if its pads crack and bleed.In August 2004, Vail Mountain Rescue had to retrieve a border collie mix that suffered torn foot pads during a hike to Mount of the Holy Cross. The owners did not know the boulder fields would tear the dog’s feet. Quinn also recommends keeping an eye on trail-blazing dogs for signs of fatigue. “A dog is not going to quit. It’s going to keep going,” she said. “It’s no different than a lab that will play ball until it drops dead. Their instinct is to hide pain.”Running into animals

Elk, deer, bear and other critters roam the same areas as hikers.”We came upon some elk two years ago that I had no idea were there,” Jensen said. “They picked up on our scent and bolted.”Jensen has also spotted deer, coyote and foxes. “We tend to go out early in the morning and you see more wildlife,” she said.Bendel said if a hiker and dog come into contact with a bear, elk or mountain lion, the owner should remain calm and gently try to call the dog back. “No dog is any kind of match for a wild animal,” he said.To keep dogs from chasing a wild animal, owners should teach their dogs the “stop” command.Despite the hazards, Bendel said getting out on the trails is rewarding. “It’s great bonding,” Bendel said. “The dogs – even my laid back Labrador retriever – love to go on hikes. It’s a matter of good solid exercise and good solid bonding for the dog, you and the family.”Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado