Leave your dog at home, please

 

What I say will not make me a popular person, but here it is: For excellent reasons, dogs should not be – and usually aren't -- allowed in the backcountry of national parks. Dogs, being predators, bother wildlife even when they're leashed. Then there's canine fecal matter, which carries a number of diseases and parasites that may be passed on to wildlife.

Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of dogs are not good hikers; their paws become lacerated and since they sweat through their feet, it is easy for them to overheat. If a dog gets lost or injured, Search and Rescue volunteers may have to risk their lives to aid the animal. This year, off-leash dogs had to be rescued from Volcanoes, Acadia, Kenai Fjords and Yellowstone national parks. Grand Canyon does not keep statistics on SAR calls on dogs. Trail volunteers say that they report dogs in distress, but the canines usually make it out on their own before SAR can get there.

There seem to be many people who cannot bear to be away from their fuzzy loved one for the length of a hike in the wilderness, so they bring their dog along -- even when it is prohibited. How do they get away with that, you may ask? Easy. They just say it is a "service" or "therapy" dog.

Bingo. No one may question the service dog. Websites selling service-dog vests, collars and even bandanas, brag you can "Take your dog anywhere." Then they add that they sincerely hope that no one is gaming the system by registering a service dog that is not, in fact, a service dog. Right.

In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry signed up 2,400 emotional support animals. Last year, it registered 11,000. No paperwork required; this is on the honor system. Public employees such as park rangers may ask whether the dog in question is a service dog, but they may not ask about the manner of a person's disability.

One is allowed to ask what the dog is trained to react to and what, as a caring professional, one should do upon that occasion. Websites promoting pseudo-service dogs warn that one should have the answer memorized so "it flows smoothly." If the question evokes a blank stare from those who have not rehearsed their smooth response, one can, if one is in a snarky mood and out of uniform, mention that "Liars go to Hell."

Those protected under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act are not pleased. Some say they are concerned that the rights of those with disabilities will be undermined by those who want Fido along and are willing to lie to achieve that goal. Although passing a dog off as a service animal is a federal offence, perpetrators figure they won't get caught.

This is becoming enough of a problem on and off trails that municipalities such as Prescott, Arizona, are passing or proposing laws penalizing the pseudo-service dog. Meanwhile, national parks are allowed to close an area to service animals if it is determined that the animal poses a threat to the health or safety of people or wildlife. Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks both require that service dogs be registered with the backcountry office. The owner is schooled on trail etiquette, and SAR is alerted.

Rangers say that they never used to see dogs: now they deal with them 20-to-30 percent of the time. A dog owner may be ticketed if the dog is off leash, barking or defecating on the trail, but not for lying about the dog's status.

Mule wranglers at Grand Canyon say mules will attack a dog. On a narrow trail with a cliff on one side, this is not a good scenario. One wrangler says the half-dozen dog owners she has met cooperated in moving their dog out of sight; still, they're a hazard.

Make no mistake; there are those for whom having their dog along can be a matter of life and death. When a legitimate service dog is on the trail, the owner usually sets a realistic itinerary and avoids extreme temperatures. But often they leave the dog home, because they do not want their animal exposed to danger or put under stress.

So what, you might ask, is the harm to a national park if a true or faux service dog is well behaved while it's there? Badly behaved teenagers surely do more damage to the wilderness than dogs; after all, dogs don't spray paint their name on the rocks.

For me, it's the lack of respect for a park's rules that gets my goat, the notion that rules apply to other people but not to me, and because it is inconvenient to leave my dog at home, I'll just lie and get my pet into the backcountry.

 

Marjorie "Slim" Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. She is an educator at the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • ASSISTANT TOWN ATTORNEY
    Town of Jackson, Wyoming, $66,700 - $88,000 DOQ, full benefits. Law Degree Required. Rental housing options available. For a complete job description and to apply,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...