One of the best ways to enjoy nature is to share it with those you love, two-footed or four-footed. We’ve been sharing the wilds with Scotia, our sheltie, for every one of her six and half years. Or maybe she’s been sharing them with us. Truth be told, she gets us out of the house in weather that might otherwise make us develop an all-consuming interest in the Kardashians’ latest antics.
Happily, Scotia is an all-season dog. Winter on the west coast, summer in the semi-desert around Cache Creek, shoulder seasons wherever – it’s all good to her. But bringing Fido into the forest entails greater risks and responsibilities, as well as offering greater rewards.
Risks in our area include cougars, and coyotes, and bears! Oh my! We carry pepper spray, keep a watchful eye, and sometimes equip Scotia with a bear bell – though we’re not sure if it’s really a dinner bell for the bears.
So far, we’ve had no dangerous encounters, though once, during a hike on China Ridge near Princeton, our spidey senses just would not stop tingling. While we could see nothing in the comparatively open forest, we were cougar-spooked. We cut that walk short.
The responsibilities include not letting your hound harass wildlife, or ruin the wilderness experience for other people. Some car campgrounds have separate sections for pet owners, and many backcountry areas ban dogs completely.
Particularly in the crowded frontcountry, scooping after your dog is vital. And not just to save others from the dreaded and disgusting “poo shoe”; canine fecal matter can wreak havoc on delicate ecologies.
The rewards? Feeding off the endless energy and inquisitiveness as that little furry advance scout trots ahead to see what’s round the next bend in the trail, then glances back with eager eyes to be sure you’re following. Marvelling at how she can backtrack a complex route she’s never seen before better than any GPS. Smiling as a tired dog beds contently down in her folding kennel, a tent-within-a-tent in the vestibule of ours. Playing the never-gets-old game of catch, with snowballs.
The other night, as I walked her for her pre-bed “business”, Scotia padded across the snow, outlined under the glow of a streetlamp. For a fleeting moment in my mind’s eye, the streetlight was transformed to moonlight and her silhouette to that of a wolfy ancestor from millennia before. Such a perfect symmetry: we bring Scotia to the wilds; she brings an echo of the wilds home to us.