A dog-eat world

A look at the perils facing canines on Juneau's hiking trials

Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2005

When Kurt Cox and his dog Pepper sat down for lunch while hiking in the woods, both caught a glimpse of a porcupine minding its own business.

"When we starting walking again, she took off after it. And the next thing I knew, she came back with a nose full of quills," Cox said.

Pepper's injuries were not severe. In fact, Cox pulled out the quills himself. But Juneau veterinarians say they see eight to 10 dogs a week during peak hiking season that are in a lot worse shape.

"I've seen them covered in hundreds and hundreds of quills," said Dr. Michael New of the Juneau Veterinary Hospital. "Some are stuck in back of the throat."

Dogs have fallen off cliffs, broken through icy rivers, sprained and broken limbs, scratched by rose thorns, and lost fights with wolves and bears.

"Basically anything that can happen to a human can happen to a dog out there," said veterinarian Steven Torrence of the Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center.

Chihuahuas and other small dogs are the exceptions: Torrence said they are susceptible to being carried away by owls, hawks and eagles.

Veterinarians normally don't involve themselves in Juneau's ongoing debate on whether dogs should be leashed outside of the home.

"Some dogs are easy to control by voice command," Torrence said.

Laura Paresky has trained her dog Cowboy since puppyhood and has never had a problem on the trails.

"You just have to be persistent," she said. "Dogs want to make their owner happy."

City law requires dogs to be on a leash when walking in public, except for "leash-free" designated areas. Canines are also banned from some trails.

Some residents argue for leashes because they don't want their own pets, children or themselves to be attacked by another dog.

Kevin Conrad of the Gastineau Humane Society's animal control department said the $25 fine is rarely given out. He personally believes the law can cause more harm than good on trails with narrow ridges, particularly in spots where if the dog falls, the owner could tumble as well.

"I wouldn't take my dog on a leash out on those parts because it's dangerous up there," Conrad said.

Cox's brush with the porcupine hasn't convinced him that his dog needs a leash.

"I figure that I can keep my dog on a leash and keep her safe, or I can let her live a little and accept the consequences," he said.

The consequences can include a pet being in a world of pain until the vet "de-quills" the pooch's snout. Owners may feel the pinch from paying an average of $150 to $200 for the bill.

The vets recommended that if your dog does chew on a prickly critter, take it seriously and get the needles removed as soon as possible. Quills left inside can become soft and cause nasty infections; some untreated have led to death, New said.

New said dogs that have chased porcupines before are likely to do it again.

"They don't learn their lesson," he said, adding that sometimes it makes dog even madder at porcupines after being stuck with quills.

The Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center (789-7551) and the Juneau Veterinary Hospital (789-3444) have staff members on call 24 hours a day for these kinds of emergencies.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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