When Katana the eight-year-old Shiba Inu lost her vision, her owner Kyle knew he couldn’t leave her behind.
Kyle Rohrig, 29, knew it would be risky to take Katana along with him on his long-distance hikes, but he refused to complete the trail alone. Instead, he decided to bring Katana along to help her get her confidence back.
Katana and Kyle had 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 the dog’s left eye.
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The pair had to head home to get Katana surgery, but returned to the trail once the vet had said she was okay.
When she lost her vision in her right eye, making the dog fully blind, Katana become cautious.
‘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.
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‘All of this seemed pretty normal given her new circumstances, but due to her personality and past accomplishments this was heartbreaking to witness.’
Kyle knew how to get Katana back to her old self: take her along on a 1,100 mile hike on the Florida Trail.
‘Taking Katana on the Florida Trail as a recently blind dog was a calculated risk,’ Kyle explained. ‘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.’
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Kyle and Katana began their journey on 8 January. Over the next 72 days they trekked across the state, facing alligators, snakes, busy highways, and disappearing paths along the way.
The plan worked – as they continued along their hike, Katana regained her confidence, falling back in love with adventure.
Katana hiked more than 200 miles of the trail herself, but Kyle carried her for the remaining travels.
Kyle said: ‘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.
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‘She’s back to her old self and her old shenanigans – I couldn’t be more happy or proud.’