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Malibu Search and Rescue personnel rescue Titus, a Siberian Husky.

Malibu Search and Rescue is known for helping find lost and injured hikers, but sometimes they rescue animals, too. Now that hot weather is upon us, the all-volunteer team wants to alert the public to the dangers of hiking with animals after three recent dog rescues—two that ended tragically.

Stephen Marshall, a reserve deputy sheriff and MSAR assistant team leader, and Neal Thornhill, a civilian MSAR technician, helped rescue a 40-pound, five-year-old husky named Titus on June 6. The dog’s family took him on a new trail in Westlake, but the trail was rocky. Titus’ paws got cut badly and stuck with thorns. Two miles in, the experienced pooch hiker lay down in pain from his injuries. “

The family was prepared with essentials,” according to Thornhill. “They had plenty of water, food, a makeshift shelter, a phone and a flashlight. We got there several hours later. Titus was kept cool and hydrated.” MSAR was able to get Titus on a litter and hiked him two miles to the trailhead.  

Last week, another dog wasn’t so lucky.  On June 11, in 100-degree heat, an eight-year-old lab was only a half mile in on a Stunt Road trail when he collapsed. The dog was over-weight and “went downhill very fast.” 

“Labs are very stoic and can hide their suffering,” according to Marshall. “Once you notice they’re not doing well, it’s a very fast downward spiral. Dogs can succumb to heat stroke in 15 minutes.” On April 28, at Escondido Falls, another dog died while being hiked out of the trail. 

Dr. John Lupo, a veterinarian of 25 years who just celebrated his 10th year practicing in Malibu, said it’s important to pay attention to a dog’s age and activity level.

“Obviously, an older dog with a heart condition is going to have a lot less ability to withstand a long hike on a hot day than a young, healthy three-year-old,” Lupo said. “Animals, similar to people, can’t just go run a marathon without training. A long hike on a hot day is like that.” Lupo warned not to let your dog be a “weekend warrior.” 

“If you take a couch potato and try to do a five-mile hike on a hot day, it could potentially be a dangerous situation,” he said. 

The veterinarian said he’s seen many dogs with hurt paws “worn down like a third degree burn. Make sure before a hike they are used to traveling distances and being on rough surfaces.” 

On hot surfaces like asphalt, temperatures can get as high as 125 degrees in only 85-degree weather. 

“Even with good callouses on their paws, it could be too hot for some pets,” he said. “It’s like a person walking barefoot on a five-mile hike. Check your dog’s paws every mile or two to make sure its paws aren’t getting blistered, bruised or scraped up.”

Similar to people, it’s well known we have to keep ourselves hydrated. 

“Sometimes, people forget about their dogs or aren’t super vigilant about it and don’t bring enough for their pets. You can buy portable water dishes that collapse and you can put them in your backpack. When you stop and take a drink for yourself, give your dog water at the same time,” Lupo suggested. 

If you find your dog is in heat distress, Lupo advised to evaluate the situation.  

“If it’s a heat stroke, you will find heavy breathing—excessive respiratory panting, increased heart rate,” he described. “You may be able to take a pulse on their back legs. If the heart rate is high—if the dog’s turning a little purple—lift up the lip to check the mucous membrane to see if it’s purple and look at the tongue and gums. If they’re turning more of a dark to purple color on the gums, as opposed to a normal pink color, all those things communicate that the dog is going into heat stroke. If you can pour water gently onto the paw pads some of the heat will lift from the paw pads.  If you have enough water, soak the dog in cool—not cold—water.”   

You may have to pick up the dog and get to a vet ASAP. 

“People sweat to lose heat, but dogs don’t sweat,” Lupo reminded. “They lose heat by panting. If you see a dog panting excessively, that’s a good indication that they’re really getting hot.” And, MSAR reminded: Don’t forget to check for ticks.

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