By Mark McConville
THIS MAN took his dog on an epic 1100 mile hike to get her confidence back after she went blind.
Writer and long distance hiker Kyle Rohrig (29), from Navarre, Florida, USA, knew it would be risky to bring his eight-year-old Shiba Inu, Katana, on the Florida trail with him. Katana was already an experienced hiker when she started losing her vision.
She and her dad had gamely completed the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail together and were in the middle of a 2,650-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail when glaucoma clouded her left eye.
The two were forced to leave the wilderness so Katana could have surgery, but returned as soon as the vet cleared her to finish the trail together.
When she lost the vision in her right eye, rendering her fully blind, Katana changed from a confident dog to cautious and unsure of herself.
“She was very jerky in her movements and would second guess herself at every turn,” said Kyle.
“It would sometimes take her minutes to find the courage to hop up or down from the couch or even to cross a threshold from indoors to outdoors or vice versa – and she always needed gratuitous verbal encouragement to do any of it. All of this seemed pretty normal given her new circumstances, but due to her personality and past accomplishments this was heartbreaking to witness.
“Taking Katana on the Florida Trail as a recently blind dog was a calculated risk. In order for her to be as successful at being blind as possible – she needed to “live” her blindness. To explore and reach her full potential, she needed to be worked with full time and in constantly changing and evolving environments/landscapes.
“Sure, she could memorize the layout of a house and live out the rest of her days in familiar comfort but then she would only be great at navigating one place.
“When I brought Katana out here, it was either to sink or swim. The only catch being… I wasn’t going to let her sink. We’d been eating and sleeping her blindness for months, but once out there on the trail, we’d be breathing it as well.”
Rohrig and Katana started their hike on January 8th, at the trailhead in Big Cypress, in the Everglades. He estimated it would take them between two and three months to make their way across the state to Fort Pickens.
Over the next 72 days, the two braved alligators, snakes, busy highways, blown-down trees and sometimes a trail that simply vanished into the overgrowth.
Along the way the change in Katana amazed Kyle as she became the confidence, adventurous dog she was when she had eyes.
“The greatest changes I saw in Katana definitely pertained to her confidence,” he added.
“She stopped second guessing herself and her surroundings and began taking big bites out of life like she used to. She gained back her spark, as well as the flair that has always made her unique.
“She is as close as ever to the dog she used to be when she had eyes. She can run through the house without a second thought; navigate multiple doggy doors to get in and out of the backyard; and leap up and down from couches and beds without hesitation.
“Before the hike, when she made a mistake or bumped into something, she would clam up and abandon whatever it was she was doing. Now when she makes a mistake or bumps into something while playing, she just takes it in stride and doesn’t even seem to register it. She’s back to her old self and her old shenanigans – I couldn’t be more happy or proud.”
All in all, Katana hiked more than 200 miles of the trail herself, while Rohrig carried her for more than 800 miles.
For more information see www.instagram.com/_roamad_