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Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel: Keep man’s best friend safe on the trail

Danger lurks for dogs who wander off-trail in the Santa Clarita Valley

Posted: September 19, 2009 6:57 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Stinging nettles are one of the many hazards faced by your dog on trails in the Santa Clarita Valley. Standing water, snakes, insects and the weather can all injure your pet.

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Your dog relies on you to keep him safe on the trail. There are a lot of hazards out there that you should be aware of to keep yourself and your best friend safe. A lot of people think of a hike as a place where their dog can run free and off the leash.

Unfortunately, this is not true.

If a dog is running around and playing off-leash, predators such as mountain lions and bears can be attracted to them and attack.

The dog can also run into poison oak when he is off-trail.

Even if it won’t affect the dog’s skin under his fur, he can be susceptible to infection of the eyes or pass the oil from the plant on to you at a later point, which can cause a reaction.

Ticks, snakes, contaminated water and food are other things that a dog might run into when he is off trail. And, if he laps up contaminated water or eats poisoned food, chances are you won’t be in the brush to stop him.

Any of these things can be harmful or fatal to your pet. Not to mention that if you’re caught with your animal off-leash at a local park it can cost you hundreds of dollars in fines.

The bottom line is that you are responsible for the health of your pet. A first prudent step would be to confer with your vet to see if your pet is healthy enough for a rigorous hike.

Once that has been established, you might consider taking first aid items for your animal with you when you hike. Your vet can give you help in assembling your doggie first aid kit or direct you to a book on the subject. But you might start with an assortment of items including saline eye wash, a muzzle, blunt scissors, gauze pads and wrap, dog nail clippers, dog booties for injured paws, tweezers, ointments, and don’t forget to take him lots of water and a bowl.

After every hike, you should check yourself and your dog for ticks. Spread his fur and look for embedded ticks, as well as combing his fur thoroughly to check for ticks hidden, but not yet imbedded. Avoid grass and overhanging brush, and make sure your dog is reined in so as not to touch the brush as well. A tick repellent used before going out is also a good idea.

Poison oak is prevalent in the Santa Clarita Valley. There is no poison ivy. The best thing to do is to learn what poison oak looks like, and avoid it. Remember the saying, “Leaves of three, let it be.” When you see it, rein your dog in and keep him from touching it. Remember, he can pass it on to you or your family.

Insects that sting can be another problem. Things like bees, wasps, caterpillars, mosquitoes and black flies can not only be irritating, but dangerous as well. Using repellents and nets on yourself, and getting a prescription repellent for your dog can help. If your dog is agreeable to wearing a net, this would be helpful for him as well.

Irritating plants such as stinging nettles also abound near creeks and trails. Brambles and thistles are another concern. Again, avoiding them is the best defense. If you and your dog stay on the trail you are less likely to be exposed to these nasty plants.

Most of the snakes you will come across will be non-poisonous. However, they can still bite and cause an infection. It is best to avoid all snakes at all times. It is also important to be able to recognize a rattle snake, and if you, or your dog are bitten, it is important to get help immediately. Do not use a snake bite kit, and do not apply a tourniquet.

The most important thing is to get to a hospital/vet hospital immediately. Call 911 and have an ambulance meet you at the trail head if you are bitten. If your dog is bitten, pick him up, if at all possible, and return to your vehicle as quickly as you can, and get him to the vet’s office.

Most water you will find along the trails will be polluted or contain a micro-organism called Giardia which will cause chronic diarrhea. It is best to avoid water in the wild. Bring your own and bring enough for your dog. If you are gone for days at a time, there are purification pumps you can add to your pack and iodine or bleach pills which will help to keep you healthy.

Any wild or dead food that your dog may find along the way is most likely to be hazardous to their health. Bones can fragment, the animal might have been poisoned or a carcass could contain lead or any number of other pollutants. Be sure that both you and your dog have a sufficient supply of food any time you go on a trip — even a day hike.

Another consideration, and one of the most important, is weather. I witnessed a dog expire this summer as he was running in extreme heat, trying to catch up to his mountain biking owner. Extreme heat or cold can kill your pet. Plan your activities so that you will avoid the heat of the day in summer. Check the weather report so you can avoid days of extreme cold, rain or snow. Be kind to your pet. Remember, he is out in the heat of the day with a fur coat on, and in the snow with bare feet.

Lastly, be considerate of others on the trail. Keep your dog under control as he may frighten others.  Pick up after your dog and keep “it” off of the trail so someone else doesn’t step in it. Hike responsibly, stay safe and be comfortable.

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is a Santa Clarita Valley resident, volunteer, and leader of the SCV Community Hiking Club. Her column represents her own opinions and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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