Before you take your four-legged friend skiing, make sure he’s up to the task
Before we get started this cross country skiing season, let’s talk about dogs.
Should you take them cross country skiing with you?
One of the best places to ski nordically with a healthy and prepared canine companion is at the Mesa/Delta County Line Cross Country Ski Trails, expertly groomed by the Grand Mesa Nordic Council (GMNC).
The Nordic Council provides designated dog trails in this area. Loops from one kilometer (.62 miles) to about four kilometers (2.48 miles) are beautifully laid out by the good folks who groom these trails four times a week, weather permitting.
One of the worst places to ski with your pet is at Skyline Cross Country Ski Area, a few miles closer to Grand Junction. That’s because other backcountry users have major “issues” with your pet… holes in the track where a skier wants to plant and kick, dogs chasing you, dogs snarling at each other, brown klister ...
There are other life-threatening issues as well: your dog can get hypothermia, frostbite, have a heart attack or stroke, just like you. They can get injured, hungry, dehydrated and tired.
Sarah Shaw knows a lot about pets on Grand Mesa in the middle of winter. That’s because she and husband, Kenton, graciously donate their lives to the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, and they have participated in a half-dozen dog rescues over the past few ski seasons.
“People are slowly becoming more educated,” she said, “but they need to be reminded that animals can suffer as much as we can.
“If it’s a sunny day and the snow is hard as a rock and there’s no one around, I guess it’s OK, but for the most part, I don’t encourage anyone to take their dogs skiing with them. Some dogs just aren’t right for the winter climate we have here — puppies, old dogs, dogs with short hair — they’re better left at home.”
According to Drs. Foster and Smith, of the famous pet catalog company named after them, minor cases of frostbite in pets “usually involve only ear tips, whereas more extensive freezing causes the loss of the tail and appendages (toes and legs). Death may result if the limbs are involved. Dying tissue attracts bacteria, and severe, life-threatening infections can result.”
Hypothermia “is a condition in which the body temperature becomes too low for normal functioning. It is more common in animals that are short-haired, small, wet or have no shelter during periods of cold temperatures,” according to the good doctors’ Web site, http://www.drsfostersmith.com.
That could happen every day on Grand Mesa from now to next spring.
Want more on doggie issues like hypothermia, frostbite, and how to treat them? Check out drsfostersmith.com AND ask your veterinarian.
If you ski or snowshoe with a four-legged sidekick, hazards exist that you may not see.
Remember, you’re gliding on top of the snow with your skis or snowshoes, while your dog is post-holing through the deep stuff. They may encounter stumps, ruts, vegetation, rocks, fallen trees, stream beds, water bodies, and many other natural and man-made objects that could cut a paw, sprain a leg or freeze a toe.
No matter what, as Sarah suggests, provide a hardy breakfast for your four-legged friend, at least an hour before exercise. (Longer-bodied dogs should eat two hours before exercise. Like horses, they may bloat, which is very dangerous). Carry plenty of snacks and water for your dog as well as yourself.
Before you take your dog skiing, check the temperature and wind chill factor. It’s updated daily on the Nordic council Web site at http://gmnc.org.
Give your dog plenty of time to acclimate to altitude and a chance to rest. He’s working a lot harder than you are.
When your adventure is complete, be sure to have blankets or old sleeping bags in your car to warm your dog.
Check pads, stomach and groin area for scrapes or chafing from snow build-up. Never let your dog ride in an open pickup, wet or dry.
There are many dog friendly cross country/snowshoe areas in western Colorado. Check with local land use agencies before you go.
One final word: If your pet does not come to you when it’s called, it should not be off lead. But, if you’ve got a pet that needs to burn energy and get out as much as you do, do us a favor: pick up his doo-doo, and take Fido to a place where he’ll be appreciated.
Go to gmnc.org for up-to-date conditions reports on Grand Mesa, then either join the Nordic Council or drop a few bucks into the donation box at the trail head next time you’re there. After all, you are the beneficiary of their fine deeds!