In a world of resorts eager to find a competitive edge in guest amenities, one Utah resort has truly gone to the dogs.
Flash was huffing and puffing even more than I was on a hot Saturday afternoon. His tongue was lolling out of his mouth as he wound his way in between my knees. The border collie wasn’t used to being on a leash, and all he wanted to do was herd me as we made our way to the trailhead of Snow Canyon.
Flash hits the hiking trail. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Flash and his canine buddies get to hike the rusty red mountains twice a week — at least they will until they are adopted from the Ivins Animal Shelter in Ivins, Utah. They do it as part of a program with the Red Mountain Resort, where guests get the privilege of hiking with shelter pups — a program that seems equally beneficial for both the dogs and the humans.
Is this the most scenic animal shelter on Earth? (Photo: Jo Piazza)
When I told one friend back in New York that I would be hiking with the shelter dogs out in Utah and I was nervous about bringing one back, he laughed at me.
“That dog has a way better life hiking out in Utah than living in your tiny New York City apartment,” he said.
Maybe so. The Ivins Animal Shelter has a no-kill policy, and its adoption rate is 99.7 percent.
The Pound Puppy Hike program came about 10 years ago while a hiking guide for Red Mountain was splitting her time between the resort and running the animal shelter.
These days the top dog at the shelter is Aggie Smith. A no-nonsense woman with a big heart, Smith has worked here for nine years. She started as a volunteer and is now the shelter manager and an animal control officer. There are two things she can talk about all day long: dogs and football. She loves the Eagles, hates Michael Vick. Smith has three dogs of her own, two from this shelter and one from the local high-kill shelter. She also has six cats and a husband who is a trucker. He’s home only for about eight days each month.
“When he’s back he is always looking behind doors and under beds to find out what new animals are here,” Smith said.
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For the Pound Puppy Hike, the dogs are brought out one by one and they couldn’t be happier to see their hiking companions. Nikita, a 1-year-old husky with pale blue eyes, did a delighted prance to impress the crowd. Once she was on the leash, she didn’t want to hike — she wanted to run.
To be fair, the humans were just as excited as the dogs.
Flash and I have a cuddle on the trail. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
We wound our way around the shelter and out to the canyon. The hikes can last up to two hours as they meander through the hills and red sandy dunes. Compared with some of the challenge and endurance hikes that the resort offers, this one is a breeze.
There’s an inherent danger in taking one of the shelter dogs on these hikes. You inevitably bond with your new furry friend, and it isn’t unheard of for resort visitors to go home with a new family member.
“We’ve had 30 dogs adopted from this walk,” Smith told me.
I looked down at Flash. Could I get this dog home on an airplane? As if she read my mind, Smith put a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “He’ll get a good home."
Stormy, a 5-month-old retriever mix, was tuckered out after her run. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Besides the pups in the hiking program, the Ivins Animal Shelter offers cats (who don’t hike) for adoption, too.