Going hiking is a part of my job and, like most Los Angeles dogs, I’m an off-leash lady, which allows me to investigate all of the secrets up and down the trails of Los Angeles first hand. I’m uninhibited off leash and am free in nature, until some frenzied fellow off-leash dog sends me into a similar fright. This is a problem. It’s a problem not only for me but for the other dog and, by association, for my and their owners, who search for us in a panic. There are myriad problems of off-leash hiking for us dog friends that no one really thinks about until that moment when you and your owner realize, “Oh, shit: I have no idea where I am, where they are, and how we can reunite.”
Mid-December of last year I had a moment like this and it was awful. Usually, if I get a little turned around on a trail off-leash, I stay put or pace a little up or down the trail–but I never get that far before finding who I’m looking for. In one particularly frightening situation, I was so disoriented and off track, away from my owner, that I went all the way to the bottom of the trail and waited. I was found not too long after that, luckily, but last December I wasn’t.
We were at Runyon, hiking up the easy trail (that one to the left from the main entrance, where you have to curve up the hill and then pass through the gate). I was doing my thing the whole time, off leash, wandering around without any trepidation. At the middle of the trail, we usually return back down (you know, where the end of the trail from Mullholland meets that semi-steep and challenging trail on the right with the amazing view). Unfortunately, we were turning around at that point and I did not get the memo. I was taking in some nice weeds (not those kinds of weeds) and, when called, I darted in the opposite direction, my hearing thrown off by the canyon, hillsides, and desert vegetation.
Where was I now? I had no idea. I wandered up and down the trails, searching the paths before me and behind me to find my bright pink hoodied master, who must have blended into the same canyon, hillsides, and desert vegetation that betrayed me minutes earlier. I was at a loss and didn’t know what to do. So, like any lost dog friend, I tried to run home. The problem with that is that I have no sense of direction outside of Runyon, which is a shame because I live just “two blocks from the park” in a direction I know not of. Being lost for a long time gets you paranoid and thinking about what is scarier than being lost, which is being hit by a car or being attacked by another dog or falling prey to a much stronger creature in the neighborhood after night falls (and, of course, night was falling fast as it was dusk).
I was crossing streets, trying to get the attention of hikers heading to their car, but seemed to only gather compliments about being interesting looking–not questions as to why I was untethered. Thankfully, someone did question that: a nice, small brunette woman named Michelle who saw that I was without owner and full of worry. She coaxed me to her and we hung out outside of her apartment on the street. After some time, she started calling the number on my collar and we headed into her place (where I paced in at her door for thirty minutes, freaked out by her place, her dogs, and the absence of anything familiar).
Michelle received a phone call not too long and mentioned that “they were coming.” Then, I didn’t know who “they” were: the police? More dogs? Her friends? Some birds? Who? To my thankful surprise, it was my owner (and my other owner, who apparently must have left work to assist in finding me). I was out of breath and parched and exhausted, but I was found and life was back to normal again, a far cry from the hour and a half I spent alone and convinced I was going to die, alone, in the middle of a park full off-leash dogs and I was the only one in trouble.
I share this story because I know I cannot be the only pup this has happened to, nor will I be the last. If you are bringing your dog friend hiking with you to any park and want to venture off leash with the baby, be careful: you never know when we could be spooked and then diverted off of the trail onto who knows where. Similarly, be sure that you always have your pup on a collar with your *current* phone number and, if you can, have your dog microchipped (for worst case scenarios). You should always have your phone on you, charged, in case someone tries to call you with your pup. If the thought of your puppy escaping scares you even the slightest, just keep them on leash. I’m now back to being an on-leash-lady and I like it just fine because I know that I am not going anywhere but up and down that hill.
On the other end of the spectrum, I implore you to be like Michelle. If you see any dogs that look a bit out of sorts, nervous, scared, and off leash without a discernible owner, snatch them up and wait at the end of the trail with them. If they have a tag with information on it, call the number–and don’t stop calling until you get an answer. If you can’t get a hold of anyone, leave a message with all of your information and the details of what you are doing. If the details you left changed–even if the slightest change of location occurs–let them know. If you hear nothing, you may want to contact an animal shelter about what to do and post a few signs at the trail, within the neighborhood, and online (on Craigslist and Facebook, sharing a photo of the pup in question). The LA County Department of Animal Care & Control, Fido Finder, LA Animal Services, and the Humane Society all have terrific resources for you. Don’t give up on the owner because you know that a dog would never give up on you.
Be safe out there hiking, people and dogs. Keep your friends close and your pups closer out there. And, Michelle, if you ever read this, thank you again: you, literally, saved my life.