Dogs held at an animal shelter can quickly lose their zest for life as the days pass.
Volunteers at the Knox-Whitley Humane Association are working to ensure that doesn’t happen with some of the shelter’s longest-tenured residents by hosting the second season of, “Hiking for a Paws.”
Working with volunteers, shelter officials match up the dogs selected to participate in a given hike. In addition to getting both the dogs and their human companions some needed exercise, it teaches the dog social skills with humans and other dogs that make them more adoptable.
“It restores their hope,” said Hiking for a Paws organizer Christian Mansfield of the dogs that take part.
Anyone interested in joining Hiking for a Paws must first attend an orientation event. The first one will be at 11 a.m. on Feb. 8 at the shelter on Busy Lane off of Fifth Street.
“We hold about four or five orientations per year,” Mansfield said, noting additional orientations are scheduled for March 14 and April 18.
“Before a new hiker can go out, the individuals must first go through orientation,” Mansfield said.
The first hike is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 29.
“My goal is to have two hikes per month,” Mansfield said, emphasizing that hikers are not obligated to participate in every one.
Mansfield said the hikes take place on trails throughout the region including Cumberland Falls, Pine Mountain State Park in Bell County, and throughout Daniel Boone National Forest.
“They range in length from three to seven miles and take anywhere from three to six hours,” Mansfield said.
Shelter staff will select the dogs to participate. The goal is to have two people for every dog so someone does not have to attempt to hold several dogs at one time.
“A hiker does not have to manage a dog. That is completely the individual’s choice,” Mansfield said.
Hikes begin around noon in the early spring.
In an effort to protect the hikers and the dogs, Mansfield said hikes are postponed if the temperature exceeds 87 degrees, and/or there is more than 40 percent chance of rain, or there are thunderstorms forecast.
Mansfield said the change in the dogs after a hike is incredible.
“They absolutely love it. They stretch their legs, and just love the interaction with the people,” Mansfield said, adding that when the dogs are loaded into their crates for the ride back to the shelter, it is not uncommon for the whole group to be quickly asleep.
Some hikes have ended with a dog or several dogs not returning to the shelter as hikers have elected to adopt a dog on the spot.
“We always have adoption contracts with us,” Mansfield said, noting Hiking for a Paws, in many ways, is like a mobile adoption event.
“It is best possible way to meet the dog because you are meeting it in a non-shelter environment,” he said.
More information about Hiking for a Paws is available by contacting the shelter at 526-6925, or Mansfield at (606) 401-3044.