NPS Sites Going To The Dogs, At Least Where ​Canine Volunteers Are Greeting Visitors

Paw Patrol dog and patch

Photos, top to bottom—Who wouldn't welcome a visit with a grinning cattle dog volunteer like aptly-named Ranger at Devils Postpile National Monument? Nice patch, fella! Cuyahoga Valley National Park took the first four-legged steps to engage local dog owners and their canine companions with a Paw Patrol volunteer program. Volunteer Cheyenne McAffee and "her owner" Ranger pose by the scenic Devils Postpile. Two Paw Patrol volunteers and partners pose in the Woods at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. NPS photos.

Devils Postpile National Monument in California's High Sierra has just taken a four-legged step to engage local dog owners and their canine companions in the monument's volunteer program.

The Paw Patrol program employs dog owning volunteers and their pets as representatives of the monument, to connect with dog loving and dog walking visitors—and serve as examples of great canine behavior and conduct.

The program got its start at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio during 2010. Cuyahoga’s Interpretation and Visitor Services Ranger Scott Van Houten pretty well sums up the appeal—“Dogs are a great way to make visitor contact at the park,” he says. “They’re just another reason to stop and talk to a uniformed representative.”

Cuyahoga became a unit of the national park service in 1974 and got its current name in 2000. After the tow path recreation trail opened in the early 1990s, visitation to the park doubled. With cycling so popular, the park saw the potential for engaging recreationists with special interests and introduced the bicycling Tow Path Trailblazers in 1993. A horse patrol was started too.

The canine idea came about in 2010 and it’s been a hit. “All the volunteers are trained in first aid,” says Van Houten, “and it’s a good way to meet people. Anything that makes representatives of the park more approachable is great.”

Devils Postpile Supervisory Ranger Maureen Finnerty thought the same thing when she discovered the program. "You're not going to believe this," she said, "but my Mom is actually a Paw Patrol volunteer at Cuyahoga Valley! We were talking about the various volunteers that parks work with, how it's often difficult to engage the visiting public, and she said, 'Boy, you ought to check with Cuyahoga Valley, the have a great dog program.'"

Finnerty did just that in a call to Brady Bourquin, Park Ranger Interpretation, at Cuyahoga Valley, the direct supervisor of the Paw Patrol program. The rest is history.

Devils Postpile’s Paw Patrol Program has also proven to be a huge success with dog owners, monument visitors, and the volunteers. “But these aren't just any dogs in the program,” Finnerty says. “Dogs selected for the pilot program had to pass a rigorous and nationally recognized series of behavioral tests." The monument uses the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Test to ensure that all canine participants in the program are models for good dog behavior and that their owners help demonstrate to park visitors responsible pet ownership not only in national park sites that allow dogs but at home as well.

Of course, there are many national park settings where dogs are not allowed, even on leash. "We are pleased to have such as an innovative offering like Paw Patrol in our volunteer program," says Cuyahoga Valley superintendent Stan Austin. "It was unique to Cuyahoga Valley because we are one of the few parks that allows dogs. We were interested in launching the program to help visitors recreate with their dogs in the park safely. Additionally, it provides for a unique volunteer opportunity for people who enjoy experiencing the park with their pets. Paw Patrol volunteers and their canines have been a wonderful addition to our volunteer program!"

At Devils Postpile National Monument, the new Paw Patrol Volunteers have contacted more than 300 visitors to date.

There’s more going on during these visitor interactions than just educating park users about dogs and regulations pertaining to dogs. Paw Patrol volunteers also introduce visitors to monument resources and the topics of resource protection and safety.

Volunteer Paw Patroller Sarah Seaborg, who patrols at Devils Postpile with her black lab Sprocket, said, "Visitors love the dogs. Even if they don't have dogs, they just come up to you and start talking. It's a great way to connect."

Devils Postpile is surrounded by the Inyo National Forest, which allows dogs both on and off leash, and is accessed by a dog-friendly mandatory shuttle system. More than 1,300 dogs and their owners take the shuttle service each year at Devils Postpile—another reason why dogs just seem to fit.

There are about 8 miles of trails in Devils Postpile, and of course, dogs must be on leash and dog owners who hike with their pets are responsible for cleaning up after them. To make that easier, the monument’s trailhead is equipped with Mutt Mitt ® disposable plastic bags!

Finnerty says the program hopes to educate dog owners and other monument visitors about pets in parks, but the effort is also intended to connect volunteers and visitors to monument resources through the eyes of their canine companions.

Inside the monument, the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail run as a combined trail and the Ansel Adams Wilderness is just outside the boundary. Devils Postpile National Monument was established in 1911 to protect the Devils Postpile formation, a “rare sight in the geologic world” which “ranks as one of the world's finest examples of columnar basalt.” The symmetrical columns soar 60 feet high. Devils Postpile is also famous for 101-foot high Rainbow Falls.

Comments

This sounds like a very good program. For many people, being in the outdoors with their dogs makes the experience more enjoyable, and having a program which educates people how to do so in a responsible manner is a win for everyone involved.

Please don't start allowing dogs in the parks. Many, many dogowners do not follow the rules (keep them offleash, don't or can't keep them from barking). This is one reason I love going to National Parks--no barking dogs, no dog poop. Peace! Please keep at least 1 place dogfree!

And, another thing--I don't want to see these "[= 14px; line-height: 18px] [/][= 14px; line-height: 18px]Mutt Mitt ® disposable plastic bags" on the trails. It's crazy that dog owners already don't carry their own bags. Just keep the dogs off of the trail, please![/]

There are already way too many dogs (in the sense of pets) in the parks. No need to encourage people to bring even more into them.

Love the idea. Anyway to teach people the responsible way to hike and camp with our K-9 friends. I am all for it!

I agree-- please no dogs in our National parks. We know how much people love their dogs but (I know it's hard to believe) the rest of us don't neccessarly have the same intimate feeling for your pooch,or cat,or llama or....!!

Excellent, innovative, progressive and creative idea! Thanks to the managers and volunteers (2 and 4 legged) for their service and dedication!!

The last thing I want in a National Park or anywhere I go is to be greeted by some dog sticking their nose where it doesn't belong. Nor do I relish the idea of a human host/greeter covered with dog hair and a big dog grin greeting me.I know a lot of people love their pets but I don't and don't appreciate someone forcing theirs in my face.

Based on the article, the people leaving negative comments seemed to be missing the main point of the program!

The idea of the Paw Patrol is to let people see how a dog should act in public both by example and explination. For those of you who dont want contact with a dog, a dog is not supposed to pull, or be allowed to pull over to anyone walking the trails. The handler should wait for the visiter to come to the dog if contact is wanted. Also we are not out in the parks to enguage a visitor in conversation. A simple hello is said and it is ok to pass on by if the person does not want contact. As a Paw Patrol handler we have many people stop us to visit, ask questions about the program, and to ask general questions about the trails and the area. So the next time you see us out, say hi or pass on by - it's ok.

"Dogs are a great way to make visitor contact at the park"-- What does that mean?? Most people don't need a dog to make any kind of "contact" in a park-- it's not that we don't like dogs-- I have two labs myself. We go to parks to get away from it all-- including dogs and cats!! This is really a ruse by dog lovers to give legitimacy for them to bring their pooches to the parks. Most dogs are well behaved but not all-- can you imagine what will happen when one of our dog friends runs into a grizz on the trail?? Dog parks in suburbia are OK for dogs but not in our National parks IMHO.

Dick G et al. I would much rather see a dog than you in the park. Sure there are bad dogs but only because there are bad humans. If they don't obey the rules - throw them out - dogs and humans. On the whole, the dogs cause far less damage and far less fouling than any of the humans.

Well thought out response there "anonymous"......

Agreed, anonymous! I don't like dogs and I don't want to be subjected to interacting with them when running or hiking on trails. They are unpredictable and always will be. I will visit those parks where dogs are not allowed.