Zero citations issued since Phoenix rule banned dogs from hiking in extreme heat

PHOENIX - It is late September, but the triple digits are still around, and in Phoenix, that means hiking trails are off limits to dogs.

It has been two years since the park rule dealing with dogs and excessive heat went into effect. The initial pilot program banning dogs on 100-degree-and-higher days was tested in 2016. Violating the rule is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and punishable with a fine up to $2,500 and six months in jail. 

Arizonans love their hiking trails. In 2017, the City of Phoenix hiking trails saw 3,457,707 visitors, which was an increase of 577,666 from the year before.

Despite the more than three million visitors though, zero citations have been issued to dog owners who took their pets hiking on Phoenix trails while it's over 100 degrees.

"Just because people aren't being caught doesn't mean it's not happening," said Kelsey Dickerson, with the Arizona Humane Society. 

"It is one of those things that is really hard to enforce...because a lot of times the dog is already off the trail by the time law enforcement gets there," said Yvonne Massman, Natural Resources Coordinator for the city of Scottsdale.

Unlike Phoenix, Scottsdale and surrounding cities do not have a ban. However, they do have similar problems with dogs dying or needing to be rescued. 

"In the last few years, we have had several dog deaths out here. Primarily due to the heat and exertion," said Captain Gary Burns, who is on Scottsdale Fire's technical rescue team. "Several times a summer we do get calls for assistance with dogs."

Scottsdale alone has had six rescues in the past three years. The fire department said they are the only one in the Valley that responds to dog rescues. 

Unfortunately, three of those dogs died. Two of the owners were charged with animal cruelty, which is why Scottsdale officials say they are less inclined to adopt a ban. 

"The city will possibly prosecute you for animal cruelty so it is not like we need a second ordinance in place," said Massman.

"The thing that we would benefit most is people paying attention to what the conditions are and what their animals are doing," said Capt. Burns.

The Humane Society is hoping other cities will create formal rules to further deter pet owners from risking a hike with Fido on a hot day.

"We’re hoping other cities follow Phoenix’s lead and have better laws to help protect pets," said Dickerson.

The City of Phoenix said in a statement they "focus on education versus a punitive process." Phoenix has had a successful "Take a Hike, Do it Right" campaign that led to 17 fewer human rescue calls in 2017 than 2016.

Cities across the Valley have also put up clear signage letting dog owners know of the dangers of hiking in the heat and also the consequences.

The bad news is there is no way of really knowing just how many animals die on Valley trails every year.

"We always recommend that they take their dog straight to the vet when they leave the trailhead. But often their dog has already passed away and we don't know," said Massman. 

You can learn more about the “Take a Hike. Do it Right.” message and safety guidelines on the parks department's trails webpage.

For information on how to better protect your pet from the heat, you can learn more on the Humane Society's website.

Important to note, dogs are even more likely to die when they are not on a hiking trail.

According to the Humane Society in Phoenix, since May 2018, they have responded to 1,048 heat-related calls wth animals.

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