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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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As temperatures rise, more and more Albuquerque residents are hitting the trails. Trading warmer weather for higher altitudes is a given for Burqueños hoping to escape the summer heat. Despite most of the foothill trails beginning 1,000 feet higher above the city, heat is still a danger for hikers and their pets. Several dogs were reported to have died from dehydration while their owners took them for a hike in the Sandias this month.

Midday heat can pose a serious and sometimes deadly risk for hikers and pets. “Albuquerque mornings can be beautiful and even chilly in the summer, but can quickly heat up to dangerous temps. People attempting trails such as La Luz often start out with far too little water, electrolytes, sun protection and proper knowledge of the trail system. They bonk or run out of daylight, call 911 and we’re dispatched,” Steve Larese, an operational member of Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council, said. 

Albuquerque’s high altitude, especially in the foothills, offers cool mornings but sees a drastic temperature increase in the afternoon. According to the National Weather Service, 2020 saw at least five days climb into the triple digits and many more well into the 90s. The high desert ecology of the foothills offers little protection from the sun during the day and can be especially punishing for animals who may not be adapted or prepared for such heat. 

“If you want to take your dog on a hike during the summer, consider the dog’s experience and health conditions. Dogs don’t complain and can always seem like they’re doing great. But dogs need extra calories when hiking and can drink twice the amount of water they normally would daily,” Larese noted. Some cities have even implemented pilot programs to prevent owners and pets from finding themselves in potentially life-threatening situations. In 2016 Phoenix passed into law a pilot program that made it a misdemeanor to bring a dog on the city’s trails if temperatures enter triple digits. Anyone caught with their animal on the trail in those temperatures would be subject to fines as high as $2,500 and up to six months in jail. The law was passed after the city recorded several animals passing away due to heat exposure on trails.

Although Albuquerque hasn’t reached that point yet, it is important to note that the city does experience extreme heat in the summer and hikers should be aware of their pet’s limits. “Trails can get very hot during the day. Consider your dog’s paws and check the trail temps with your hand for 10 seconds to see if it’s too hot for paws. Booties can help, but most dogs take some time to get used to them,” Larese said. If the pavement is too hot to touch, then it is probably too hot for your dog’s paws.

Water is also a scarce commodity in the Sandia Mountains, and standing water can pose a very real danger for both hikers and their pets. “Many N.M. trails don’t have water, and owners shouldn’t rely on their pets to find water. Standing water is dangerous for dogs, and they can get Giardia, worms and other waterborne issues,” Larese said. “Dogs on the trail are partners, not pets, and their care and well-being should be considered as carefully as anyone’s in your hiking party.”

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