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.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a full-time grassroots leadership director to oversee all aspects of the Grassroots Leadership Program. This includes ongoing development of...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • RIVER GUIDE AND EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • POLICY AND RESEARCH ASSOCIATE
    The Center for Western Priorities (CWP) is a nonpartisan communications and policy center that serves as a source of accurate information, promotes responsible policies and...
  • OWN A PIECE OF THE GREATER YELLOWSTONE ECOSYSTEM!
    near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] www.arrowreal.com (Country Homes).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.