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.
What stage or place has most remained in your heart?
I liked the entire Valnerina area so much, immersed in the nature, because I didn't know it at all before I went there. The place I liked most was Castel di Lago, a charming small village that gives a perfect idea of Umbria and of Francis' route.
What did you take away from your journey along the St. Francis Way?
It was a really positive experience, that strengthened me a lot. I often tend to underestimate myself and so I feel the need to arrange everything just so. Instead, facing this journey alone with only my two dogs, managing to finish it, going on adventures and overcoming even small difficulties, strengthened my confidence. When I did the Way I was still living in Monza and not working; the time alone with my dogs gave me the chance to reflect and think a lot, and probably this experience gave me the courage to change my life, moving to a family property and starting my present job.
What would you recommend to those wanting to take the St. Francis Way with dogs?
First, choose a period that is not too hot, because having enough water is the main concern with dogs. Carrying a big supply of water in your rucksack adds a lot of weight and makes you work harder.
Then you must carefully assess your own conditioning and that of your dogs, and choose suitable stages to avoid subjecting them to excessive effort. You'll have a wonderful experience, that will deepen your bond to your 4-legged friends. I also advise considering taking more days than necessary to travel calmly, maybe giving yourself extra time to sightsee in the art towns and having a rest day to visit the historical centers. Even your dog will have the time to rest, without being too much under stress.
Don't forget to pack bandaging supplies, like I needed for Ombra's paw on the second walking day.
Finally, pay attention to people and other dogs you may meet along the trail, particularly those on private land. Along the route, I let them roam free, but approaching towns, I had the leash ready in case of need.
Anna's story is beautiful; it's an adventure shared with her splendid companions that will surely live on in her memory, and it even contributed in a small way to turning 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 support services created by the Francis' Way consortium to make the route more pet-friendly. These 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, so the dog's location can be pinpointed.
The Statio Peregrinorum (Pilgrim's Welcome Office) in Assisi welcomes those walking the Way and issues certificates attesting their pilgrimage. Dogs receive their own certificates too, in keeping with St. Francis's message of love and respect for nature and her creatures.
For information: www.francescosways.com