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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A beloved resource, Romano’s book ‘Best Hikes With Dogs’ ages well

By Angela Schneider For The Spokesman-Review

It’s such an old book.

My copy is battered, dog-eared and marked with streaks of highlighter.

“Best Hikes With Dogs: Inland Northwest” has been one of the best resources I’ve found for hiking this area with Bella.

The receipt from Barnes & Noble is tucked in the pages. It’s dated July 3, 2011, which means I bought it before I imagined moving to Spokane or even meeting my second Maremma sheepdog.

“It is such an old book,” said Craig Romano, the guide’s author. “I don’t even think it’s still in print.”

I connected with Romano recently to chat about “Best Hikes With Dogs,” his first full book, and how it’s still a valuable tool for adventurers wanting to hit the trails with their best fur friends.

“I imagine a few things have changed since then,” he said. “Kootenay, British Columbia, area probably has some changes with the fires, but most stuff in Eastern Washington and North Idaho has changed very little.”

Romano prides himself on the accuracy in all of the books he produces. It’s one of the reasons he hates the user-generated content on mobile apps, such as AllTrails.

“It’s so unreliable,” he said. “Some of the trails listed aren’t even legal and cross private property. People use (the app) without any discretion and then get into trouble. And there’s no warnings for avalanche danger.”

Romano’s trail reviews are concise but full of meat, from distance and elevation gain to estimated hiking time and trail description. He even includes the wildflowers you might see in spring, a personal geek-out of mine.

He delivers notes of reminder to bring lots of hydration for you and your dog when he’s reviewing a trail that’s away from running water.

And there’s this little gem from Snow Peak Cabin near Republic, Washington:

“Your dog will be captivated by the number of ground squirrels that have colonized the burnt zone.”

While he hiked and researched the trails, he paid close attention to how his dog companions responded and enjoyed the travels.

But I was surprised to learn not one of the dogs featured in the book was his own. A dog, which requires care and companionship, has never fit into his lifestyle of adventure and wanderlust. One can’t simply have a dog and spend months hiking and guiding in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.

“If my lifestyle was different, I probably would have a dog,” Romano said. “I love going out with them. … My parents’ neighbors had a beautiful Lab and he was so out of shape. I would take him for a run.

“I love animals and I do get to make that connection with my brother’s dog when I visit him in New England.”

Instead, he relied on the dogs of friends and acquaintances, and especially of the photographer with whom he worked to compile the book. Mittens, a border collie who owned human-with-camera Alan L. Bauer, graces the cover and is pictured throughout the pages.

“I really wanted a diversity of dogs in the book,” Romano said. “There’s a Pomeranian I did 5 miles with and it was not carried once. We did Sandpoint with a blue heeler named Barkley. He was a very high-energy dog.”

Paying attention to the dogs, he learned a new way to hike. That’s the only way to hike with which I’m familiar, of course.

“I had a lot of fun working on this book because hiking with a dog is different,” Romano said. “The dog is going to call the shots a lot of the time. It means you’re going to focus on different things.

“Your dog will stop and sniff for evidence of an animal and if you dog is well-behaved, he might help you see wildlife without scaring it away. He can enhance your wildlife experience.”

Mittens, he said, spotted a whole herd of elk Romano might not have otherwise seen. Dogs may also hone in on dens and scat, attuning the hiker to warnings of possible wildlife nearby. They also open the eye to enjoying the experience differently.

“The needs of a dog are the same as small children” said Romano, a father to a 6-year-old boy. “Kids and dogs don’t care about the epic view. They have more fun in the forest and that opens up more opportunities for quieter hiking.”

Aye, there’s the rub. Cater to your dog’s needs and you’ll find yourself on trails that aren’t quite as busy.

“If you’re with someone who doesn’t care about the view – that’s where all the crowds are – you might go for a wooded experience along a creek,” Romano said. “That’s not where the Instagram people go.”

That’s the kind of hiking he likes to do now, even without a dog. The trails near Seattle are too flooded with people.

“It’s a mob scene, just like all over the Lower Mainland of British Columbia,” he said.

“It’s because of COVID. The trails are inundated by people who have no idea what they’re doing.

“I always think of the trail less traveled from the Robert Frost poem. I shun those places and help people discover something new. It’s like going to K-Country or Yoho (in Alberta) instead of Banff … you get something different, maybe a better wildlife experience.”

Romano tends more toward the Skagit Valley, where he lives. He’s also updating the Central Cascades edition of “Day Hiking.” That series, which also includes an Eastern Washington edition, on which he collaborated with former Outdoors editor Rich Landers, takes care to note dog-friendly trails with a little bone icon.

The hikes he and Landers did to research the book led to “Best Hikes With Dogs.”

“We did everything not to replicate his book,” Romano said. “I wanted my book to be different. It was for the dog hiker, to give you more for you and your dog-centric life.”

There is some natural overlap but Romano was intentional in leaving out popular, busy trails.

“I don’t want you and your dog near tons of mountain bikers,” he said.

Rather, the experience of hiking with your dog should be one of peaceful quiet. When hikers allow their dogs to enhance the experience, he said, an “intense bonding” can happen.

“There’s an unconditional love in that bond and it’s so important to have that in these times,” says Romano, who is grieving the loss of his Maine Coon cat two months ago.

“In this time of divisiveness, everything is so intense. Dogs help us slow things down and live in the moment.”