Rescue group: Know your dog’s limitations |

Rescue group: Know your dog’s limitations

Volunteers carried 2 dogs off Quandary Peak last week

Dogs serve as valuable companions for many rescue workers in Summit County, responding to dangerous slides with the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment team and helping to sniff out lost hikers in the backcountry.

But sometimes it’s the dogs that need rescuing, as was the case last week when Summit County Rescue Group volunteers helped a pair of exhausted pups off Quandary Peak.

On Thursday, July 8, the rescue group helped a Great Pyrenees off the mountain. The dog had summited the peak but couldn’t continue down due to exhaustion and torn pads on its paws. The next morning, the group rescued a Weimaraner that collapsed after summiting the mountain.

“The dogs were just beat,” mission coordinator Charles Pitman said. “They literally couldn’t move another step, and you can imagine as an individual if you felt that way. If you’re a dog who can’t express its feelings and what it’s going through, I think it becomes sort of tragic for the animal. So I think people really need to think long and hard about if it’s really appropriate to take your dog on some of these hikes. It’s one thing to walk a dog on the Lily Pad Lake trail or something that’s fairly benign. But going to the top of Quandary isn’t a benign hike. People take their dogs there, and I’m sure a lot more than we ever see, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily always a good idea.”

Anna DeBattiste, the rescue group’s public information officer, said that dog rescues are fairly uncommon and that these two were the first handled by the team this year. But a string of dog-related incidents across the state — one was rescued after a 200-foot tumble off a bank near Steamboat Springs, another was carried off Mount Yale due to exhaustion — in addition to the two in Summit have earned the attention of rescue workers.

The Summit County Rescue Group is asking hikers to consider their dogs' limitations after a pair of pups had to be rescued from Quandary Peak last week. This Weimaraner collapsed after summiting the mountain.
Photo from Summit County Rescue Group

Some rescue groups won’t respond to animal calls, and DeBattiste said there have been times in the past when the Summit County Rescue Group had policies against it, as well. But she said heading to the trails to help out a dog in need is often necessary to make sure its owner doesn’t get into trouble trying to take care of the situation on their own.

“At various points in our history, depending on our policies and what the sheriff’s stance was, there have been times when we’ve said we don’t rescue dogs. We know we have plenty of members who are happy to go out for a dog; I personally am happier to go for a dog than a person because the dog didn’t make the choices that got them there,” DeBattiste joked. “But the other thing is if you don’t go for the dog, then hours later in the middle of the night, in worse weather, you’re going for the dog and the owner.”

DeBattiste said Summit County residents can expect to see talking dogs pop up on their Facebook and Twitter feeds helping to educate community members on how to safely hike with their pets, a social media campaign that started last year to spread awareness on avalanche danger.

Marcia McMahon, a former Park County Search and Rescue member and owner of the Fairplay-based dog fitness company Dog Works!, said dogs need to progressively work their way up to longer hikes, so they’re not pushed too hard too fast.

“They have to get conditioned just like humans,” McMahon said. “Dogs aren’t just naturally born to be able to run all day. … I trained search dogs for many years, and still have some that are retired. And those dogs have to be able to go forever, so we condition them (with) progressive training: short hikes to longer hikes to longer hikes on all types of terrain.”

When going on hikes, McMahon said owners should try to learn their dog’s body language to tell when they’re tired, checking to see if they’re lagging behind, sitting or laying down, seeking out shade, sticking out their tongue, losing coordination, panting or showing other signs of heat exhaustion. Once owners understand their dog’s behavior, they can follow their dog’s lead to take breaks or turn around when necessary. She continued to say that owners should ensure they have extra water and high-quality snacks on the trail.

Dogs’ paws also need training, as those that frequently walk on level ground with concrete or grass underfoot likely have soft pads unprepared for long walks over rocks, which are often hot and sharp. McMahon recommended owners check their dog’s paws frequently and carry booties and ointment to help them out on tough terrain.

DeBattiste said in addition to making sure dogs are fit enough for the hike, owners should carry a leash, have a tag on their dog’s collar with a current phone number and should consider microchipping in case the dog gets lost on a trail. She said dog owners should think about getting a carrying harness in case of an emergency, as well.

McMahon said anyone planning a long hike with their dog should leave early in the morning to avoid the hottest parts of the day. She also recommended letting the dog take a dunk in a pond or puddles along the trail to help keep them cool, and she said a swim after a hike can help combat painful inflammation. If a dog does get too hot during a hike, McMahon said owners should wet their abdomen and armpits with cold water to help cool them down.

“Dogs are pretty durable, but if they’re city dogs, they can only do so much,” McMahon said. “So do that progressive training, check their feet. If they’re looking stiff-legged, their feet are getting sore, but people should turn around before that point. It’s really important for people to know their dog and understand that they need to be conditioned just like people.”

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