We love our dogs.
We treat them as family. Name them, adopt them, rescue them. We carry them around in dog-purses, photograph them like they were our first-borns and write books about them.
For many people, their dogs are part of their outdoor pastimes. Our faithful friends are running buddies, hiking partners and even pack animals on the trail.
So it’s no surprise that the story of Missy has touched a nerve nationally.
Here’s the backstory.
Missy is a German Shepherd who, along with her owner and another hiker, were in the middle of hiking a challenging route in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans is a rugged and exposed connecting ridge called the Sawtooth. While a hike up Bierstadt is relatively straightforward, traversing the ridge is a Class 3 climb that involves some careful moves over areas with significant drop-offs.
This is a challenge, and quite honestly, a lot of accidents have occurred on the ridge that have seriously hurt or even killed some people. While it’s not considered the toughest ridge traverse in the state, the accidents that have occurred there underscore that it’s not a walk in the park.
Somewhere in the middle of the traverse, Missy could go no further. She was tired, her paws were bleeding from the rocks and she’d had enough. Her human companions, from what has been posted online by acquaintances, grew concerned about deteriorating weather conditions and could not carry the 100-pound animal out.
So they made a big decision: They decided to turn back and leave Missy on the ridge.
The story went national not long after another couple traversing the same ridge came across Missy. She was still alive, but in worse shape. They also could not carry her out. So they gave her some food and water, left the ridge, and made a post on 14ers.com about Missy with hopes that someone might be able to organize an effort to get her off the mountain.
People rallied, Missy was found alive and is now recovering in the custody of local authorities.
There are a lot of subplots. The owner came forward, expressed gratitude to Missy’s rescuers and said he hoped to get his dog back. There’s been a lot of anger about this incident, and not just a little bit of vitriol. Two separate threads on the 14ers.com forum had to be locked by the site’s administrator because of how heated things got.
My thoughts on this don’t center on Missy’s owner, his decision to leave the dog there, and the good fortune that she was found alive and successfully removed from the mountain (a pretty remarkable team effort). (UPDATE: Missy’s owner was charged with animal cruelty on Friday, according to this report from Outside Online.)
Instead, I look toward the decisions made before that little excursion started.
Back in 2005, I was hiking along the shore of the Gunnison River deep in the Black Canyon, getting ready to start a nice little climb to some pretty hot fishing. Down the shore, I saw a couple hiking toward us, with the woman carrying her toy-sized pooch in a dog purse. I thought this was strange, but laughed it off. It was Paris Hilton meets “Man vs. Wild,” a punchline of the funny extremes people will go to for the purpose of including their beloved pet in their daily activities (it’s doubtful that little guy would have made it far on such rocky terrain on its own).
A few years later, I saw something similar but much more disconcerting while climbing Mount Yale.
Much of that mountain’s route is pretty dog-friendly, a well-marked and maintained trail. But the summit ridge is a rocky, boulder-strewn mess. It’s fun for people who like boulder-hopping and scrambling. No problem for hooved creatures like mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and likewise pretty friendly for smaller animals like marmots and pikas.
For canines, not so much. And after one dog – a beautiful golden lab – reached its limit, it pooped out and stopped cold.
So what’s an owner to do? Turn around? Rest with his pet for awhile? Nope. The guy picked up the dog and carried it to the summit.
That, my friends, is ridiculous.
It’s obvious the dog either did not want to go any further or could not go any further. The decision to haul it up to the top was entirely a decision of the owner. Why do this? To get a summit photo with his pet? To say he did it with his dog? To put a checkmark by the name of the mountain he climbed? No matter what the answer is, the decision in that case was done without the dog’s well-being in mind. That little trick was all about what the owner wanted.
I’m all for bringing your dog on outdoor adventures. But you need to be certain that the adventure in which you’re embarking is within the capabilities of your companions. Remember, just the act of taking your dog with you makes you responsible for the animal’s safety. Your pet didn’t drag you to the mountains. You made the decision to take it there.
In the same way you are responsible for your kids, or beginner hikers/climbers, or clients, you are responsible for your animals on the trail. They trust you. They are unaware of the challenges that lie ahead.
An out-of-shape or old dog probably isn’t up for a long hike. Fewer dogs are up for anything above Class 2 hikes, and certainly any climb involving the need for three to four points of contact will rule out your pet.
Take your dog on your hikes. Get it some exercise and outdoor time. But just remember that heat, cold, elevation and bad weather will affect dogs as much as they do people. And unless you put booties on Fido’s paws, the wear and tear from rock scrambles will chew their paw pads up badly over time.
Don’t let your dog end up like Missy. Don’t let yourself get vilified like Missy’s owner. And don’t leave it up to others to haul your animal off the mountain.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088