Anna's story

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Would you like to walk along the St. Francis Way with your trusted four-legged friend, but you are not sure how? Are you worried about finding facilities or that your dog might not have difficulty? Then we'll tell you the story of Anna, a pilgrim who walked along the St. Francis Way with her two Australian Shepherds, Ombra and Ken, sharing a fascinating adventure. 

Today Anna lives between Bergamo and Brescia in the countryside and manages a boarding kennel for dogs, where she combines passion and work, and she was, not coincidentally, the first pilgrim to travel accompanied by 4-legged friends along the way.

She walked the path in May 2013, when the idea of travelling with dogs was still beginning to develop. She left from Piediluco and in a week she reached Assisi, via the Valnerina and the Umbrian Valley, following exactly the Route's stages.

Here is her story about this journey with her dogs and her advice to others considering starting on this adventure with his/her dog.

Anna, how did you get the idea of travelling along the St. Francis ay?

I got the idea almost by chance, since I read an article on the route in a travel magazine.  So I became curious and I asked for information to the administrators of the website and I came in contact with the Francesco's Way consortium that helped me to organize the journey, particularly to find premises that could host my dogs and arrange my luggage transportation. Indeed, my primary requirement was that my dogs could sleep with me in the same room.

At the beginning did you plan to travel alone or did you immediately think to take the journey with your dogs?

I immediately wanted to travel with my dogs. I started to walk together with dogs and today, every day, I try to do at least an hour walk with them. I believe that movement for dogs is an essential thing and if you won't move they won't, either. There's never enough open-space around home or a sufficient garden. It's vital to keep them moving with us.

Before leaving, how did you have to arrange things to manage the journey with your 4-legged friends?

I trusted the consortium, therefore I didn't have to manage logistics, because I didn't have particular needs except keeping my dogs in my same room. Anyone who planning this on their own will have to look for facilities that accept dogs.

What difficulties did you find during the journey?

Actually no particular difficulty or at least nothing forbidding. On the second day, Ombra's paw became a bit cracked, but I had with me all I needed to take care of her. Luckily, in May it wasn't so hot and therefore we didn't have the water problem, that could be the main worry for dogs. In Valnerina we have always had the river near, and in other places there are some small fountains along the path but I always kept a small water supply with me in case of need.

Which was the most challenging stage, for you and your dogs? Why?

For sure the route from Spoleto to Poreta, particularly because I went the wrong way leaving the route and I could hardly find my bearings. Finally I walked many kilometers more than expected and I ended the stage only in the late afternoon.

Which was, instead, the stage or place that remained in your heart?

I liked a lot all the Valnerina's area, immersed in the nature, even because I didn't know it very well. The place I liked it at most was Castel di Lago, a small characteristic village that gives a perfect idea of Umbria and of Francis' route.

What did the journey along the St. Francis Way leave you?

It was a really positive experience, that strengthened me a lot. I often tend to undervalue myself and so I need to arrange everything. Instead, facing this journey alone, only with my two dogs, managing to finish it, going on adventures and overcoming even small difficulties, strengthened my confidence. When I walked along the Path I was still living in Monza and I didn't work; along the route, with my dogs, I had the chance to reflect and think a lot, and probably this experience gave me the courage to change life, moving to the family estate and starting my present job.

What would you recommend to those wanting to embark on the St. Francis Way with dogs?

First, choose a period that is not too hot, because having water is the main problem for dogs. If you have to carry a big supply of water in your rucksack, it adds a lot of weight and makes you work harder.

Then it's necessary to assess correctly one's own and one's dog's training, by choosing suitable stages and avoiding to subject them to disproportionate efforts. You'll have a fascinating experience, that will deepen your tie tooyour 4-legged friends. I also advise considering taking more days than necessary to travel calmly, maybe reaching the most important cities and counting a rest day to visit the historical centers. In that way even your dog will have the time to rest, without being too much under stress.

Don't forget everything can be useful for bandaging, as was needed for Ombra's paw on the second walking day.

Finally, pay attention to people and other dogs you may meet on the road, particularly those inside private estates. Along the route, I always let them roam free, but in urban centers, I had the leash ready in case of need.

Anna's story is beautiful; it's an adventure together with splendid 4-legged friends that will surely live on in her memory, even because it gave a small contribution to turn her life around.

Today travelling along the St. Francis Way with dogs is even easier and safer than it was for Anna, thanks to the many supporting services created by the Francis' Way consortium that made the route more pet-friendly. They range from tourist facilities hosting animals to welcome kits containing a bowl, a sleeping mat and a toy. It will be also possible to get a collar with GPS tracker that will allow tracing one's own animal, in case of loss.

The Statio Peregrinorum (Pilgrim's Welcome Office) in Assisi welcomes those walking the Way and issues certificates attesting their pilgrimage. Dogs receive their certificates too, in keeping with St. Francis's message of love and respect for nature and her creatures.

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