A Tribute To The Ultimate Guide Dog

Backpacking / Outdoor Adventure (Unique lifestyle/travel/personal experience)

Hiking in New Hampshire is hard. The steep grades test your physical fitness, the rocky trails are tough on your knees and the unpredictable, intense weather can turn a perfect day into an emergency situation in a matter of minutes.

There are forty-eight peaks in New Hampshire that are taller than 4,000 feet.  Of the 10,098 people to have hiked each and every one of them, Randy Pierce of Nashua, NH is without question the most remarkable. For one, Randy hiked all of the peaks in a single winter season. Fifty other people have also accomplished this feat, and like Randy, three of those people hiked all of the peaks with their dogs. But that’s where the similarities between Randy and everyone else end, because Randy Pierce didn’t bring his dog along on every hike. It was the other way around.

Randy Pierce is blind.

Guiding him every step of the way on every hike he has ever taken is his service dog Quinn AKA “The Mighty Quinn” AKA the most incredible dog to ever wear a service harness or roam a trail. Guide dogs like Quinn are trained to assist visually impaired people with a variety of daily tasks. Hiking 4,000 foot peaks in all kinds of weather is not one of them and that’s what makes the Mighty Quinn so special.

Randy Quinn HIking

It all started with a simple walk in the woods on a smooth trail. As the walks became hikes over more aggressive terrain, Quinn proved himself to be a “guide” dog in every sense of the word–anticipating obstructions like low-hanging branches, steering Randy around difficult sections, and maintaining the perfect pace for Randy to find his footing on progressively more treacherous terrain.

Randy Quinn Oceola

Randy could never have imagined it at the time, but that first walk in the woods would eventually lead to a winter ascent of Mount Washington,  a feat that has eluded some of the strongest, most experienced mountaineers in the world.

Randy Quinn Washington

As I said before, hiking in New Hampshire is tough but hiking Mount Washington, “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” can be downright cruel. “The Rock Pile” is a sprained ankle or face plant waiting to happen, a situation made even more likely with gusting winds and frigid temperatures that attack the psyche as well as the body. Thanks to Quinn, Randy was able to summit Mount Washington on three different occasions and the pair was featured in the stirring documentary “Four More Feet.”

Randy Quinn 4 More Feet

Back in 2010, when Randy and Quinn were doing a training hike on Pack Monadnock, I had the pleasure of meeting them along with Randy’s wife (fiancee at that time) Tracy in our Peterborough, NH store. I was in awe of Quinn’s calm, completely unflappable temperament. When he was on-duty, you could have set a filet mignon two feet in front of him and he wouldn’t have budged. All service dogs have this kind of self-control but Quinn’s talent for hiking is rare. More important than being physically and mentally capable of guiding Randy over difficult terrain, Quinn enjoyed it. In an article in New Hampshire Lakes and Mountains, Randy stated that he would continue to climb with Quinn: “as long as he loves doing it.”

Randy Jim Quinn

Quinn’s love for hiking never waned but the other night on Facebook, I was sad to learn that he had passed away. Out of respect for Randy, I haven’t asked him what happened to Quinn, nor did I ask him to offer any words about their relationship. In a response to my email of condolences Randy said that: “Well appreciated and heartwarming support has helped much but my grief is very deep.”

Every canine/human relationship is special but even a dog loving person like me cannot begin to comprehend the bond that Randy and Quinn shared. It began with 17 days at the school where Quinn was trained and continued for nearly nine years of almost constant contact in some intense situations. Randy and Quinn were described by a hiking partner as “two bodies moving as one.” You don’t have to have hiked a mountain before to understand how difficult that is.

When I informed our Facebook fans about the passing of the Mighty Quinn, the response was off the charts. Eastern Mountain Sports fans are a dog-loving crew and the Mighty Quinn was an easy dog to fall for. He and Randy traveled to scores of schools, outdoor clubs and fundraising events to raise money for service dog training, spread awareness about the growing threat of blindness and demonstrate how much a determined person can do with help from a four-legged friend.

Randy Quinn Washington 2012

It costs $50,000 to train a service dog to assist a visually impaired person. That’s why 2020 Vision Quest supports Guiding Eyes For the Blind so that other visually impaired people can experience the life-changing benefits that Randy is quick to extoll. Of course, calling the Mighty Quinn a service dog is like calling Mount Washington a day hike. Let’s call the Mighty Quinn what he was–the ultimate guide dog and an incredible inspiration to everyone who met him or heard his story.

Whether you were a regular follower of Randy and Quinn’s adventures on their Facebook page or this is your first introduction to their story, I hope you’ll consider honoring the Mighty Quinn with a donation to 2020 Vision Quest. Any amount would mean a great deal to Randy as he prepares to tackle the profoundly difficult challenge of life without Quinn.

Of all the things I’ve learned from Randy and Quinn, the one that sticks with me most is that pain, loss and sadness can be harnessed to do great things. Until then, please keep Randy and Tracy in your thoughts.

Quinn Aug 13

In memory of the Mighty Quinn
12/11/04 – 1/20/14

Jim Darroch


Jim's love for the outdoors began with family camping trips in "Brady Bunch" style canvas tents and progressed to backpacking adventures with the Boy Scouts. In 2007, he fulfilled his teenage dream by joining Eastern Mountain Sports as Brand Communications Manager. When he's not in the office, you'll find Jim kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking around the Monadnock Region and throughout New England with his wife Brenda and his dog Brewski.

10 Comments

  1. February 4, 2014, 9:36 pm

    [...] Eastern Mountain Sports contributor Jim Darroch has shared an absolutely beautiful story about a service dog, Mighty Quinn, who led Randy Pierce, his blind best friend, up and down treacherous mountain terrain (including Mt. Washington!). If you haven’t already read this piece, check it out: A Tribute To The Ultimate Guide Dog [...]

  2. February 4, 2014, 1:26 pm

    It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in with my friend Randy Pierce back in New Hampshire. Those of you who have been following this blog for some time now, will remember my tales of hiking with Randy in the mountains of New Hampshire. Randy, and his guide dog Quinn, became the first visually impaired individual (and guide dog tandem) to hike all of New Hampshire’s 4000 Foot Peaks. Not long ago, news spread across the inter-webs that Quinn had been diagnosed with an advanced form of canine cancer. Please forgive me, as I don’t know all of the details; I just know that I wanted to give Randy and his wife Tracy, the space and time needed with their friend in these waning days. Today, I found out that Quinn was put down after his short struggle with cancer. An unimaginably difficult decision filled with emotion, internal struggle and humanity; no doubt. Words cannot truly express the grief I share with Randy and Tracy in their loss. Though, I find it appropriate to reflect on the honor it was to work along side A Guide Like No Other.. The Mighty Quinn.

  3. January 31, 2014, 11:05 pm

    Typically, a guide dog and handler interact with each other by the feel of the dog’s harness and a series of known rules. While a cane for mobility is about object detection, meaning tapping and locating any intervening object with a sweep of the cane, a guide dog is about object avoidance.

  4. January 28, 2014, 8:38 am

    It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in with my friend Randy Pierce back in New Hampshire. Those of you who have been following this blog for some time now, will remember my tales of hiking with Randy in the mountains of New Hampshire. Randy, and his guide dog Quinn, became the first visually impaired individual (and guide dog tandem) to hike all of New Hampshire’s 4000 Foot Peaks. Not long ago, news spread across the inter-webs that Quinn had been diagnosed with an advanced form of canine cancer. Please forgive me, as I don’t know all of the details; I just know that I wanted to give Randy and his wife Tracy, the space and time needed with their friend in these waning days. Today, I found out that Quinn was put down after his short struggle with cancer. An unimaginably difficult decision filled with emotion, internal struggle and humanity; no doubt. Words cannot truly express the grief I share with Randy and Tracy in their loss. Though, I find it appropriate to reflect on the honor it was to work along side A Guide Like No Other.. The Mighty Quinn.

  5. January 24, 2014, 5:45 pm

    Wow I know Randy by his Cousin who told me about him!

    What an inspirational story!

    Go Randy and Quinn

    Shayla M.
    Willow, Alaska

  6. January 24, 2014, 5:41 pm

    Wow! Amazing story! I know Randy’s Cousin he told me about him through this amazing story!

    Go Randy and Quinny girl!!

    Shayla McCartney
    Willow, Alaska

  7. Jim Darroch
    January 24, 2014, 10:25 am

    Thank you all so much for your comments and Sue, thank YOU for your donation. I know that will mean a lot to Randy and Tracy and it put a smile on my face as well.

  8. Sue
    January 23, 2014, 5:10 pm

    Just donated. 2020 Vision Quest is an extraordinary organization. Rest in Peace, Mighty Quinn.

  9. Bryan Flagg
    January 23, 2014, 1:59 pm

    RIP Quinn. As hikers and a pet family, we can truly relate to losing a pet. My wife Sue & daughter Sierra had the honor of meeting Randy & Quinn on Mount Techumseh when Randy first started the winter hikes. It is something they will never forget.

  10. Lynn
    January 22, 2014, 9:38 pm

    This is a beautiful tribute. Having known Quinn, and being friends with Tracey and Randy for more than a few years, you’ve captured a wonderful part of their lives. Thank you

Leave a Reply