Pets on the Appalachian Trail
Hiking the AT becomes exponentially more popular every year, and with people come their dogs. Bringing a best friend is a fun option for day-hikers and thru-hikers alike. Humans and dogs evolved as migratory species, so it seems obvious they would both be built for long-distance travel together. People often bring their pets for safety, companionship, or service. Bringing pets along the trail is a recent trend, that being said it’s making waves. Some pet retailers and companies now cater exclusively to pet owners looking to gear up their dogs for the long walk.
Hikers that bring their companion pet do so for several reasons. Women often bring large dogs with them for safety reasons, to ward off potentially harmful fauna or human attackers. The Appalachian Trail also can get extremely lonely, so bringing a dog to keep one company is extremely beneficial to the mental well being of hikers. Usually small dogs don’t make it the whole way, they are burdensome and the trail is much more difficult for them due to their size compared to a standard Lab. Another reason dogs will get taken on the trail is for service. A hiker can take an emotional service dog with them if they suffer from PTSD or another affliction. Often times, military veterans with PTSD take a dog with them on the trail to assist the healing process. Blind hikers almost always have a seeing eye dog to guide them along the trail.
Taking a pet demands certain preparations and precautions. A lot of hikers who might take pets along get spooked out of the challenge by a number of obvious risks. If an animal is not well-trained enough, it could run off into the woods and get lost. If an animal is too lazy or out of shape to finish the hike, it becomes a burden and might ground a hike before the hiker who actually wants to finish can do so. If a pet gets hurt or burnt out of the trail, often times their owners feel immense guilt over putting their animal in that situation. For some, these risks alone are too great, and they find a friend or family member to take the pet into temporary custody until the hiker has finished the trail. Bringing a dog also means bringing twice its weight in extra luggage. Dogs can shoulder some of the weight, and there are now special pet backpacks designed for this very purpose. There are, however, exceptions. There are cases of housecats taken on the AT who alleviated that burden. Ziggy, the most famous cat to thru-hike, hunted for its own food most of the time, and would often stray away from its owner for days at a time, returning days later with a full belly and a shelter mouse in its mouth. Modern dogs don’t hunt.