Dagny Stahl’s two large Chow mix dogs are like family to her — and not just because she’s an only child. The longtime Girl Scout loves spending time with her favorite furry friends, Heidi and Zeppelin, and she often bring them along when she goes hiking, camping or backpacking.

So when it came time to come up with an idea for a Gold Award project, Stahl made sure to incorporate her love of animals.

Stahl, a Santa Monica High School junior who has been involved in Girl Scouts since 2008, recently earned the organization’s most prestigious honor for her outreach campaign to improve pet health and safety.

“Pursuing my Gold Award meant earning the highest achievement in Girl Scouts,” she said. “Girl Scouts has been such a big portion of my life that I really wanted to feel like I completed and took advantage of every opportunity that they offer.”

Stahl’s project took root after she came across two young women who were hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains with a large Bernese Mountain Dog named Bailey. The dog was refusing to walk because her paws were shredded from the hot rocks, said Stahl, whose family offered bandages.

“My dad tried to carry her, but she was too heavy,” Stahl said. “So we ended up taking turns, in groups of four, supporting her with a towel that we slung under her stomach to take some weight off her feet. We were about 3 miles from the trailhead, and it took six people 3 hours to get the dog back. While we were going back, other hikers passed us and told us how similar things had happened to other dogs on that trail.”

The experience inspired Stahl to take action. She didn’t want fundraising to be the focus of her Gold Award project, so she began raising awareness about outdoor safety for pet dogs. She made first-aid kit lists and placed the cards in local veterinarian offices, pet stores and recreation stores like REI and Patagonia. She also built a website, Paws Before You Go, and gave presentations at Franklin Elementary School and the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica as well as at the area Girl Scouts’ annual campout.

Her message is clear: “Your dog will follow you wherever you go, so it’s your responsibility to protect them. Bring some first aid, even if it’s only short hike. Know your dog’s limitations and watch how your dog is doing. Be aware of the conditions of the activity such as unsafe terrain for bare paws, rushing water, and extreme heat or cold.”

Stahl, whose mother is a troop leader, isn’t just a Girl Scout and pet advocate. She is a member of the Shakespeare Society and the Spanish honors club at Samohi, where she is also a pole vaulter on the varsity track and field team.

“My experience at Samohi has been amazing,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of really great teachers that make class so enjoyable and interesting.”

Outside of school, Stahl is the secretary of her church youth group and a member of Los Angeles Math Circle at UCLA. She’s still deciding on where she’d like to go to college, but she is leaning towards studying engineering because of her interest in math and science.

Of course, Stahl always makes time for hikes with her dogs.

jeff@smdp.com

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