The Asheville Hiking Hounds is a volunteer-led group of the Asheville Humane Society (AHS) that provides exercise for AHS dogs through weekly hikes, oftentimes at The North Carolina Arboretum. Volunteers pick up dogs from the Asheville Humane Society and caravan together to the Arboretum, where they hike with the dogs several Sundays a month. While this program is temporarily suspended and the Arboretum is closed as a result of COVID-19, the dogs are certainly looking forward to a time when they can resume their hikes. Studies have shown that a single walk can dramatically reduce a dog’s stress level and that this positive effect can last for days. “Our job is just to take out the dogs who are most stressed—the ones who have the most energy, that need a bit of release—and give them a break from the shelter environment with some exercise out in nature,” says Linda Brown, a longtime hike leader for the Asheville Hiking Hounds program.
Founded in 2007, the Hiking Hounds program was designed to keep AHS dogs happy and healthy by getting them out of the shelter and into the world. Over the past several years, the Hiking Hounds group has utilized the Arboretum’s extensive hiking trail system as a safe, secure place to exercise the dogs. “One of the best things that has happened for us has been the opportunity to use the Arboretum’s property,” says Brown. “The leash rule provides us with an environment that is safe for our dogs. The trails are well maintained, and we never have to hunt for parking.”
In addition to providing exercise for the dogs, the program has opened many doors for potential rescues and adoptions from onlookers on the trails. “We also love the people we meet on the trails at the Arboretum,” says Brown. “They are always so nice and understand what we’re doing. There have been several times when dogs have been adopted by people we have met out on the trails. It’s really been beneficial for everybody.”
In addition to keeping the dogs socialized, exercised and enriched, the hikes also provide AHS a great opportunity to get to know the dogs outside of the shelter. By observing them on a hike, volunteers can gather a wealth of information on the dogs’ personalities, which is helpful in connecting them with their forever home. “The partnership between The North Carolina Arboretum and the Asheville Humane Society through the Hiking Hounds Program is a perfect example of communities coming together to make a positive impact,” says Whitney Smith, marketing and public relations manager at the Arboretum. “We are humbled to host these furry friends and provide a safe, open space for the AHS dogs to exercise and explore nature.”
The Arboretum is currently closed. Visit NCArboretum.org for updates. Visit AshevilleHumane.org/covid-19-updates for the most current information on Asheville Humane Society’s response to COVID-19 and the status of the Hiking Hounds program.