A Tribute To The Ultimate Guide Dog
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.