Do you ever feel the need for a canine companion while hiking, but just aren’t in a place to have a dog of your own? La Plata County Humane Society has you covered.
A little-known program hosted by the Humane Society called Mutts in the Mountains allows volunteers to take dogs that are up for adoption on a group hike on one of the many mountainous trails around Durango.
“It’s a great way to not only get the dogs out, but also get ourselves out,” said Bret Koster, a volunteer with the Humane Society who organizes Mutts in the Mountains.
Chris Nelson, director of Animal Services for the Humane Society, said the program has been around for at least a decade, and it has grown in popularity over the years.
Typically, Humane Society staff will conduct behavior assessments of new dogs at the shelter, looking at how they get along with other canines in the play yard and how they interact with people.
Then, staff will give Nelson and Koster a list of the dogs they think would be best for a day of hiking, which happens about one Saturday a month from 9 a.m. to noon.
“It’s great for the dogs to get out and be seen and get some exercise,” Nelson said.
To take a dog on the group hike, people have to go through the process to become a volunteer dog walker at the Humane Society, which involves a meet-and-greet with staff and an informational orientation.
“Then you’re good to go,” Koster said.
The hikes have huge health benefits for the dogs, Nelson said.
“Kennel stress is something we fight from the beginning when a dog arrives,” he said.
Nelson said getting out on a hike helps relieve that stress and goes a long way in keeping the animal’s immune system strong. The exercise wears the dogs out, and it’s markedly quieter at the shelter after a day of Mutts in the Mountains.
Koster said he can recall only one or two people who adopted a dog they took out on the hike. Instead, far more dogs get adopted by other people hiking on the trail.
“We talk to everyone on the trail and tell them about the program and introduce the dogs,” he said. “A lot of times, we’ll put scarves on the dogs that say ‘Adopt Me.’”
Group sizes are capped at seven volunteers and seven dogs, Koster said. Typical hikes are at Horse Gulch, Junction Creek or Animas Mountain.
“It’s just nice to meet the people, and every time, we’re taking out different dogs,” he said.
Steve Parker and his wife, Geni Miller, became volunteer dog walkers at the shelter about a year ago. A few weeks ago, the couple partook in their first Mutts in the Mountain hike at Horse Gulch.
“It was a great day,” Parker said. “And the dogs just had a marvelous time.”
Nelson said Mutts in the Mountains is just one example of forward-thinking, out-of-the-box programs the Humane Society offers.
“I’ve been here 17 years, and it has evolved so much during that time,” he said. “We’re always trying to come up with new, progressive ideas for enrichment, not just for the dogs, but for people in our community as well.”
For example, the Humane Society offers low-cost spaying and neutering, and even medical loans for people who can’t afford a visit to a veterinarian. And, the shelter offers a courtesy hold for animals for people in emergency situations.
Also, the Humane Society has a “Read to a Dog” program, where volunteers take a dog to a school and have children with learning disabilities read to the animals.
“Kids read to them, and the dogs don’t judge if they mess up on their readings,” Nelson said “They’re great listeners.”
Nelson said the next Mutts in the Mountains is scheduled for January, rain, snow or shine. Anyone interested can contact the Humane Society’s volunteer coordinator, Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 259-2847, ext. 108.