The National Park Service is putting new emphasis this year on a Bark Ranger program aimed at helping dogs and their owners avoid potential problems while visiting our National Parks.
The program has been tried on a limited basis for a few years but this year, according to the NPS volunteers we found during a recent trip along Natchez Trace, it is being rolled out more aggressively across the U.S.
Our dog, Bo, became a Bark Ranger after talking with the volunteers and he has a shiny new tag for his collar proving it. (That's Bo in the photo above).
If you want to see the entire encounter, it's contained in Part Two of our video series on the Natchez Trace. Click the player below to see it and hear from the volunteers. It's a few minutes into the video.
What is the Bark Ranger Program?
For some time, the National Parks Service (NPS) has been concerned about the safety of dogs visiting our parks.
Some damaged natural resources harassed animals and left behind their waste that neglectful owners failed to pick up. Other dogs were injured by the environment, bit other animals or people, or became dangerously overheated when left unattended in vehicles.
So, just as the NPS did with kids to teach respect and responsible use of the parks through its Junior Ranger Program and its Healthy People, Healthy Parks initiatives, the Bark Ranger program was formed.
What does the Bark Ranger program teach?
The word “Bark” is the key to the principles the NPS encourages all pet owners to follow when visiting the parks.
- Bag your pet’s waste
- Always leash your pet
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
Real NPS rangers and friendly park volunteers are on the lookout for dogs and their owners and, as they did with us, will approach and explain the program, handing over a pamphlet explaining the principles. If owners agree, then they offer up the Bark Ranger badge, which can be attached to the pet's collar.
It comes in two sizes – small and large – and resembles the real ranger badges.
Each park or NPS site has its location printed on the tag, too, making them a collector's item for some.
Are National Parks dog friendly?
Yes, generally speaking, they are.
But you need to follow some rules.
First, all pets must be on a six-foot leash.
Secondly, in many of the parks, dogs are not allowed on most hiking trails, unless specifically marked otherwise.
Third, your dog needs to be socialized. Meaning it will not attack other dogs or people.
The prohibition about hiking trails irritates a lot of dog owners. But in many of our National Parks, especially the ones in the west, it is not unusual to encounter wildlife. Understandably, instinctively, most dogs will get very excited to see the other critters and show it by barking and lunging. This puts extra stress on wildlife.
Another reason why dogs are not allowed on most trails in National parks is to protect the dog. Grizzlies, for example, see dogs as a threat and have been known to attack them – and their owners – on sight. Same with moose. Even deer.
Cougars see dogs as prey, easy pickings as a matter of fact. And if they're attached by a leash, the humans are like a side dish.
A porcupine encounter with a sniffing dog inevitably leads to a faceful of painful quills. Venomous snake bites are life-threatening to your pooch.
Finally, dogs do their business on the trails. And while most pet owners are responsible and pick up after their pets, enough of them are not responsible and figure if bears poop in the woods, so can their dog. Dog droppings are messy, unsanitary, and not good for the environment.
(But there are some dog-friendly hikes, like these 6 Best Dog Friendly Hikes Yosemite National Park.)
Don't leave unattended dogs in your RV
The National Park Service is also very concerned with those who leave their dog unattended inside the RV when they go on a hike or stop for some sightseeing.
In fact, at the time your pooch is given the Bark Ranger badge, you'll probably hear about this.
Even if you are running the air conditioning inside the RV when you leave, there's no guarantee it will keep working.
Have you ever left your car parked on a very hot day, and came back to it being a complete sauna inside? You can’t grip the steering wheel due to the heat, and the feeling is sweltering?
That can easily happen in your RV if the AC stops.
A study conducted by Arizona State University tested how fast heat can build up inside a vehicle if left in the sun during a hot day. The findings were astounding, and alarming at the same time.
The researchers found that within as little as 1 hour the internal average temperature of the tested vehicle exceeded 116°f (47°c). This also had the seats themselves reaching a staggering 123°f (50°c). This of course is pretty blistering if you need to sit inside it for an extended period of time. But, the damage didn’t stop there.
Researchers also found that even when a vehicle is parked in the shade, on very hot days, the internal temperature can reach up to 100°f (37°f), within a single hour of being parked. It’s not hard to imagine how this can affect your pup if they are left to chill out inside of it.
While the study itself didn’t test RV’s specifically, researchers noted that heat buildup is slowed down slightly depending on the size of the vehicle. Larger vehicles tended to heat slower than smaller vehicles.
But, the difference in time wasn’t drastic. In truth, an average RV can get up to sweltering heat within as little as 1-2 hours. This spells danger to any pets that are left inside during that time.
In many places, it's illegal!
About 31 states in the U.S. have laws that make it a crime for a person to leave an animal confined in a vehicle under dangerous conditions (such as extreme hot or cold temperatures), according to this report from a California Law Group.
In fact, even if a state does not have one of these laws, it is possible that a person could still be charged with a crime for leaving a dog in an unattended vehicle under a state animal abuse and animal cruelty law.
Note that some states have laws that allow persons to rescue animals that are confined in a parked vehicle under hazardous conditions. These persons may include police officers and firefighters. Some states even say that any person can rescue an animal.
Someone could break into your RV to “rescue” your pet!
Here is a typical law (it happens to be from California) specifying that:
- any person can take reasonable steps to remove an animal from a motor vehicle, and
- the person attempts removal after holding a reasonable belief that the animal’s safety is in immediate danger.
This danger can come from:
- lack of adequate ventilation,
- lack of food or water, or
- other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal
When Bo got his Bark Ranger badge, the NPS volunteers stressed these dangers and said their personnel will be stressing this a lot this summer as they interact with dog owners.
The Bark Ranger program has made Bo an unofficial ambassador for the National Parks
Everywhere we went after Bo got his Bark Ranger badge, people noticed it and asked about it. He was like a walking billboard for the program, giving Jen and me an opportunity to explain the Bark Ranger principles (remember the anagram above).
It brought smiles from everyone. And Bo got some good pets out of the deal, too.
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