Dog owners advised hot temps on Lake Tahoe’s new East Shore path
Special to the Sierra Sun
Newly placed signs on the recently completed East Shore shared-use path carry a warning for dog owners: the path’s surface temperature might be too hot for your four-legged friend.
Recent incidents involving dogs suffering paw pad burns on the path led to the installation of the signs — and sparked heated exchanges on social media pitting arguments of pet owner responsibility against alleged design flaws.
One incident involved a 50-pound bulldog whose injuries were so severe that the pads were completely displaced from its paws, according to Dr. Kim Barnes, a local veterinarian who treated the dog. The dog’s owner was visiting from out of town and decided to traverse the path, which officially opened to the public on June 28 after nearly three years of construction.
The dog was walking and running on the path until it got to the point where it couldn’t walk anymore. The owner had to grab a wagon and wheel the animal back.
Barnes, who posted about the incident on the Incline Village Facebook group in an attempt to warn dog owners, told the Tribune she doesn’t know if the injury was due to thermal burns or walking on abrasive surfaces, but said it was probably a combination of both factors.
Injured pads are not an irregularity in the summertime, when hot and rough surfaces can completely ruin a dog’s pads.
However, the case involving the bulldog was more serious than the typical pad injury. The dog will be immobile while the pads grow back.
“This one was pretty severe,” Barnes said.
The experienced veterinarian recommended dog owners feel the surface with their hand before going for a walk. If it’s too hot to touch then it’s too hot for a dog.
Bridges run hot
Much of the attention has focused on a series of bridges — which includes the longest bridge in the Tahoe Basin — that are part of the path.
The bridge surface, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation, is made of polyurethane methyl methacrylate with aggregate. Multiple retail websites identify the material as one commonly used for pedestrian walkways due to its durability — a point NDOT spokesperson Meg Ragonese reiterated.
“With the longest pathway bridge reaching 810 feet long, a lighter-weight composite material was used on bridge surfaces,” she told the Tribune via email. “As opposed to a heavier concrete or asphalt surface, this lighter composite material helps reduce and better sustain the weight of the long bridge surfaces. It is the same type of surface used on many similar pedestrian facilities across the nation and world.”
After word about the potential danger started circulating on social media, Incline Village resident Roland Schumann decided to take temperature readings while walking the path with a group from his church this past Saturday.
He took 30 readings and at 10:40 a.m. he measured 171.3 degrees on the final bridge segment before Sand Harbor State Park. Other bridge sections ranged between 150 and 160 degrees, Schumann told the Tribune. The temperatures on the asphalt ranged from the high 90s to 124 degrees.
Interestingly enough, some temperature readings of sand adjacent to the path were hotter than the asphalt readings.
“The sand was often hotter,” Schumann said, adding that most people who spend time at the beach are aware of how hot the sand can get in the summer sun.
Officials do not dispute that the bridge sections are hotter than other parts of the 3-mile long trail, but say the bridge surface is not the only one that poses danger due to excessive heat.
“The bridge is hotter than the pavement but the pavement is too hot for dogs too. People just need to use caution,” said Amy Berry, CEO of the nonprofit Tahoe Fund, which raised private dollars that helped secure a multi-million dollar grant for the project.
Ragonese with the transportation department pointed out that asphalt temperatures can climb to more than 140 degrees with ambient air temperatures of 87 degrees.
Many of the hundreds of commenters on social media said the issue comes down to common sense. Dog owners need to be aware that being able to comfortably navigate a surface in shoes doesn’t translate to equal comfort for dogs.
In response to the issue, temporary signs have been placed at the bridge entrances, Berry said. Permanent signs that will be installed at each end of the trail have been ordered and, according to Ragonese, informational kiosks are currently in production to post at trailheads. They will include helpful information and advise dog owners to test trail temperatures by holding a hand on the pavement for five seconds or more before allowing pets to travel the trail.
Additionally, Washoe County Regional Animal Services — the county is responsible for the maintenance of the pavement — includes reminders for pet owners through a regular informational messages it disseminates, according to the county.
Still, many on social media have thrown out suggestions for reducing the heat on the bridge sections. They range from painting the bridge white to replacing the surfaces with a different material.
Barnes, who is among those wondering if changes can be made to reduce the heat, tossed out an idea of dog bootie boxes on the trail. The boxes could contain different sized booties to temporarily be used for larger dogs when crossing parts of the trail.
Berry said the material used for the bridge was chosen because it is structurally sound and light weight. She questioned if some suggested solutions, such as painting the bridges white and changing the material, would make much of a difference.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the path, it’s just a built environment … and it’s not always great for dogs to get them out on a paved path.”
The issue comes down to education, she added. Dog owners who want to use the path can go early in the morning or later in the evening during the hotter summer months.
“Everybody loves dogs. And so we want dogs to have the best experience possible and it just so happens right now taking dogs out on this path is not going to lead to the best outcome for them. But when temperatures cool down or if you go real early in the morning it should be great,” Berry said.
Both she and Ragonese emphasized that the goal of the path was to improve safety on a popular and at times dangerous stretch of highway.
“More than two and a half million vehicles a year travel on State Route 28, mixing with as many as 2,000 pedestrians and bicyclists who park and recreate near the roadside on peak days,” Ragonese said. “Ultimately, the trail is aimed at enhancing safety and mobility by separating vehicle and foot traffic and reducing potentially dangerous roadside parking.”
Ryan Hoffman is editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun based in South Lake Tahoe.