Community dog hikes offer reason to connect

By Crystal A. Proxmire

Get Out And Live may be barking up the right tree with their monthly dog hikes for LGBT people and their pooches. This year they've partnered with professional dog trainer Jen Guthrie from Pro K-9 to offer the group walks, which take place at various parks throughout SE Michigan.

"I decided to sponsor the hikes because it's the most productive exercise and social activity for dogs who are just meeting each other, vs. dogs parks, play dates, etc.

"Once we get walking as a 'pack,' the dogs settle down and usually get along well by the end. And everyone, people included, can have a safe and fun afternoon hike," Guthrie said.

The first hike took place on April 1, at Maybury State Park in Northville, with five dogs and seven people, including one person who didn't own a dog but wanted to tag along for the hike.

"At first, some dogs were overly excited and I could see which ones needed a little help. When we first gather and wait for everyone to arrive, I try to have owners keep those dogs walking around and distracting them until they settle, or until we get moving. Once we start hiking and moving forward, the dogs did wonderfully. When we pass other dogs on the trails, we'll stop as a pack and put everyone in a sit, and wait for them to pass without issue - all the dogs this last hike did great with that," said Guthrie.

"The weather was a little chilly, but mild and turned out to be perfect hiking weather. We went for an hour and a half hike through the wooded trails and around a pond. All human hikers were laughing and chatting while we hiked, and the dogs were ready for long afternoon naps at home by the time we were done! It was a success," she said.

As one might guess, Guthrie loves animals. She currently has three rescue dogs, and opens her homes to foster animals through Better Life Canine Center. For Guthrie, the benefits to pet ownership seem endless. "Besides their unconditional love and companionship, my dogs have taught me more about life than I could have imagined. I'm often told I'm the most patient person someone's ever met, and I attribute that to my dogs," she said.

Hikers must follow the rules of the parks they go to, and GOAL requires them to keep dogs on a six foot leash. No food or toys are allowed in front of other dogs and owners are responsible for their pets.

The next Get Out Dog Hike event is on Apr 29 at Rotary Park in Livonia at 1 p.m., with participants meeting in the back left corner by the baseball diamonds. Hikes last about two hours, and bringing water for the pets is recommended.

Future dates and locations are:

May 27 - Barton Nature Area, Ann Arbor

Jun 24 - Orion Oaks County Park, Lake Orion

Jul 22 - Lower Rouge Trail, Canton

Aug 19 - Lyon Oaks County Park, Wixom

Sep 16 - Detroit River Walk (Rivard Plaza)

Oct 14 - Island Lake State Park

GOALS Get out and Hike events give dog owners a chance to connect, while just being out in public with others in the gay community. They also have other events for LGBT people, all with the aim of creating a central place for social connections. Find out more about the hikes at: http://getoutandlive.me/index.php/events/193-dog-hike-lgbt-gay-lesbian-michigan Find out more about Pro K-9 at http://www.prok9training.com.

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