Friday, August 17, 2012

Dog's and (all the anti-dog) National Parks

I'm a solo hiker and, to help keep me safe, I like to take my dog.  He's pretty sweet, but at well over 100 lbs and as tall as me when he stands up, he's great at deterring unwanted attempts at companionship.  The one thing that I take issue with is that most of the National Parks don't allow dogs.  What that pretty much means is that they don't allow me.  I can't really go for many 50+ mile hikes in the backcountry wilderness alone and expect my family to not balk, object, or flat out refuse to let me go.  For that matter, I even balk a little.  I get the "leave no trace" - I'm a member of the org and a huge proponent! - and I also understand that wildlife can be negatively impacted by dogs that aren't vaccinated or maintained.

You'd think, rather than ban dogs all together, that there'd be some sort of compromise so that girls like me could go for the 50-mile Grand Teton hike they're dying for... or the Glacier hike... or the Great Smoky's hike... or the Yosemite hike... (are you seeing my trend yet?!).  The only national parks that I know are relatively dog friendly are Shenandoah and Grand Canyon (I think - haven't checked on that one recently).  I'd be pleased as pie to bring all my dog's vaccination records in and even sign away my future hiking rights and pay extra fees certifying that I know how to care for - and WILL care for - his waste and behavior, just like I know how I have to take care of my own.


  • There's good reason for the rules... Look at the red wolf reintroduction in the Smoky's, for example... they reintroduce the red wolf... said wolves die off from parvo from a domestic dog.  I get that.  Who wouldn't?  But, of note, the dog wasn't a visitor in the park, likely (since they've had a dog ban there for-freaking-ever).
  • Pet waste on trails.  There's nothing worse than enjoying a view while walking on a trail and *splat* your foot lands in a big pile of poo.  Ironically, this happens often, but it's usually bear, bobcat, raccoon, etc waste.  Regardless, let's say it's from a dog.  Now, I don't want to say that all backcountry users are absolutely the most responsible people in the world... but I WOULD be brave enough to say that the desire to strap things to your back and head into the woods for days on end generally means that you love nature.  As such, you're far more prone to picking up the occasional wrapper that someone drops, etc.  My meaning is that we're a lot more prone to NOT messing up the wilderness than a majority of the front country folks.  
  • Trail degradation.  One footstep may not leave much of a trace... but millions do.  That's why we live by the Tread Lightly mantras.  But really?  His pads do less damage on a trail than my shoes or the millions of trekking pole 'pokes'.  
  • General safety.  I mean, if you get bit by a dog on the trail, that could suck.  Also, when one hikes with their canine companion, they have to pack enough food/water for said pup as well as have a plan if something (snakes, injury) were to happen to their dog.  I had to carry LeiLui out once (thankfully she's only 45 lbs and not 145) when she injured a joint coming off some rocks.


  • I can argue every one of the points made above.  I can talk about how my dog is fully vaccinated and I'd haul his records with us.  I can cover his waste just as easily as my own.  His feet are less damaging than my shoes... and I'd keep him on a leash (not to mention he's an obedient dog). As far as injury, I'd handle it the same way I'd handle an injury to myself that wasn't life threatening.  If it WAS life threatening... well, there's a chance I'd have to report a far-off-trail burial site to the rangers. 
  • Safety:  my dog affords me more safety on the trail than any rules or posted regulations.  I'm not talking about wildlife, either, though he does help deter some.  What I mean is that I'm a 125 lb female out in the woods; because it's federal property, I can't carry a firearm.  So, without my dog or a firearm, my best defense is my bear spray (which I prefer to save for use on bears when necessary).  Know what's great? People who have nefarious intent don't CARE about no gun laws, etc.  Bad people are everywhere (think about junk that has happened on the AT) and he's a better deterrent than any concealed weapon (and far less likely to do me accidental damage).  
  • Responsible dog owners (and irresponsible ones) pay the taxes and fees like everyone else.  Granted, my dog doesn't pay the taxes... but I'd be willing to pay an extra fee on his behalf to have his company.  

I know that there are going to be plenty of people that disagree with me.  Their arguments will range from "grow a set" to "get a hiking buddy" but my point is that I shouldn't have to.  I can and do hike with my dog and leave no trace ALL the time... but I can't visit the places that my country has deemed the most picturesque and magnificent (hence becoming a national park)... I don't have - nor do I care to find - any long-trek hiking buddies.  I LIKE the alone time.  As the unfortunate compromise, it looks like if I want to do it alone, I don't get to hit the major parks.  So I don't care about the naysayers, I will whine to my hearts' content (it is included in my freedom of speech, after all).

1 comment:

  1. It took me a very long time to comply to the doggy backpack I was very concerned with my dog carrying exra wait. backpacking with dogs