Why you should take pet first aid before exploring with your backcountry buddy

Revelstoke is a community full of seasoned adventurers equipped with certifications and emergency preparedness strategies to facilitate safe backcountry exploration. But what about the adventure dogs? Celine Rytz, founder of Backcountry Aid + Rescue Kit (BARK) is on a mission to educate and prepare pet owners for outdoor emergencies.

Celine Rytz is founder of BARK, a first aid program for pet owners who venture into the backcountry, pictured here with her dog Fella. Photo: Daniel Leblanc

The remote tree planting camp in the East Kootenays woke to sharp yelps of an animal in pain. A work vehicle had started up and lurched forward quickly, unaware of the sleeping dog beneath the tire. The dog, severely injured by the incident, writhed and howled in pain. “We didn’t know what to do,” says Celine Rytz.

This summer was Celine’s 10th season of tree planting and her dog Fella’s third season. In that time, she’s seen dogs suffer minor and major injuries on the job. She says every year, there are vehicle incidents involving dogs in tree planting camps. In a city, a dog owner wouldn’t think twice about what to do — get the dog to a veterinary hospital ASAP — but in the backcountry, that’s not an option.

As hard as it is to relive these moments, Celine says tragic situations like this one have motivated her to continue to educate and support owners in the bush.

Celine founded Backcountry Aid + Rescue Kit (BARK), which provides dog-specific first aid training and kits. She believes it’s essential for pet owners to be prepared for emergencies when exploring the backcountry with their dogs.

Ask any outdoor industry professional or enthusiast, and they’ll tell you first aid training and preparedness are essential heading into the backcountry. It’s standard practice for adventurers to be equipped with the skills to rescue themselves or partners in emergency scenarios. But what about emergency preparedness for our pets?

Revelstoke is a town full of backcountry enthusiasts, prepared and certified for the rugged terrain they explore. It’s also a town full of dogs.

Celine and her dog Fella. Photo: Daniel Leblanc

Revelstoke is such a cool community in the sense that so many individuals seek out all sorts of training to help them facilitate enjoying the outdoors safely,” Celine says. “[Human] first aid training, avalanche safety, a variety of backcountry safety training, and occupational health and safety. So why not pet safety? Our pets are so deserving of proper first aid care when they are injured.”

Where there are explorers, there are adventure dogs at their heels living extraordinary lives. However, owners become first responders when their dog gets injured in the backcountry.

The unexpected happens outdoors, and the scope of an emergency is magnified when you are far from home, and even further from veterinary care, Celine says.

Backcountry Aid + Rescue Kit (Bark) provides specialized first aid training and kits for adventurous pets. Photo: BARK

Celine says that one of the many reasons to take a pet first aid course is so owners can be prepared to handle, restrain, and transport an injured animal.

“It can be very challenging and risky for someone who has not practiced it before,” she says and notes that animals can lose their bite inhibitions when injured. “Dealing with an injured animal can be a very scary experience, and if it is something you are not prepared to deal with, can be very traumatic. Mistakes can be costly, and it is so important to handle these situations calmly, cautiously, and quickly.”

Celine describes the training as an emergency response plan, something many outdoor enthusiasts are hardwired to adhere to in the case of an accident. “If an owner wants to take their pet along on an adventure with them in the backcountry, they should be prepared to safely and appropriately respond in the event their animal gets injured.”

If you asked her as a child, what she wanted to be when she grew up, the answer would’ve been dog veterinarian — emphasis on the dog part. Celine moved to Revelstoke in 2016, enticed by powder-filled winters. With an education in pre-veterinary animal sciences from the University of Vermont and a love for dogs, she’s worked as a veterinary assistant at Veterinary clinics in Revelstoke and Fernie and volunteers as a foster coordinator for HEART Dog Rescue.

While her vet dream still lingers, years of working in the bush as a tree planter have pivoted her attention towards education and outreach, empowering owners to make better decisions on behalf of their pets.

Celine started BARK in 2021 with a vision to offer pet-specific first aid kits and training for owners — specifically owners who adventure into the backcountry with their dogs. She provides in-person courses through certifying body, Walks N Wags Pet First Aid, in Revelstoke and throughout western Canada. The curriculum is extensive and adapts many essential emergency medicine topics to scenarios involving pets.

She also makes and sells curated pet first aid kits for owners to take on their outings.

BARK was established to benefit adventure dogs. In Celine’s extensive time in tree planting camps, she has witnessed traumatic pet injuries that motivated her to use her skills to educate owners who work or play in the backcountry with their dogs. Photo: Isabell Weitman

“This business was really created to support tree planting dogs, working dogs and dogs that go hiking, biking and skiing in the backcountry with their owners,” Celine says. “By extension, any dog or cat can benefit from having an owner that takes responsibility and initiative to educate themselves (and prepare accordingly) for potential injuries and illnesses throughout a pet’s lifetime.”

Celine and Fella have been tree planting in remote areas together for 3 years. Photo: Celine Rytz

Reflecting on years of experience working in the veterinary and outdoor industry, Celine believes it’s essential to involve a veterinarian in decision-making for a pet’s health and safety. Her first aid courses are not to replace a vet’s expertise but rather to empower owners to take their pet’s emergency preparedness and safety as seriously as other aspects of adventuring.

BARK first aid’s upcoming courses in Revelstoke are Saturday, Oct. 15 and Oct. 29, 2022, held at the Sutton Place Hotel. Dogs are welcome. Visit barkfirstaid.ca for classes and pet first aid resources.

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Nora Hughes is a recent graduate of the Thompson Rivers University Interdisciplinary Program, where she combined her passions for Adventure Tourism, Communications and Journalism. With a strong interest in community news, Nora is passionate about giving a voice and face to the people of Revelstoke through storytelling.