Search and rescue teams warn dog owners to know their pets’ limits on hiking trails

Local News

MORRISON, Colo. (KDVR) — The Colorado Search and Rescue Association put out a plea to dog owners this week, asking them to know their pets’ abilities before taking them out on hiking trails.

Search and rescue teams across the state have helped dogs out of difficult situations recently. They don’t typically respond to dog-related calls, but they will if needed.

Jenny Vitale’s German shepherd, Rosco, was rescued by Summit County Search and Rescue volunteers several summers ago while hiking Ute Peak.

“We made it all the way to the top. They were having fun playing in the snow drifts. We started to head back down and as soon as we hit treeline something was wrong,” Vitale said.

She said Rosco started vomiting and hacking, then his stomach began to bloat.

“He either drank too much water or ingested too much snow. All of that sloshed around in his belly, and it just took the right combination of movements for his tummy to flip,” Vitale said.

Rotation or flipping of a dog’s stomach is a life-threatening condition more commonly seen in large breeds. Vitale was able to get a signal to call 911 and search and rescue crews responded.

“About two-and-a-half miles from the parking lot, there were three or four guys that came walking toward us and said, ‘Are you Jenny? Is that Rosco?’ It makes me emotional, because if they hadn’t come, he’d be dead,” Vitale said.

Rosco underwent emergency surgery and has since recovered.

Rescue teams across the state are busy with other dog-related emergencies. In Routt County, volunteers pulled an older dog to safety after she fell at least 200 feet down a rolling cliff.

“In general, dogs don’t show us that they’re struggling for quite some time. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep up with us, so it’s sort of up to us to pick up on the fine details,” said Cindi Hillemeyer, a Routt County Search and Rescue volunteer and veterinarian.

Hillemeyer said dog owners should watch for things like slight limping, excessive drooling or panting, along with any change in the dog’s tongue or gum color. She said signs of extreme weakness or collapse are indications of a dire emergency.

Hillemeyer says pet owners should ease their dogs into strenuous physical activity. Just like humans, they need time to build endurance. Their paw pads also need time to adjust to rough surfaces like gravel on trails.

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