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Hershey, a chocolate Labrador retriever, and owner Michael Walker posed atop Welsh Peak during a 2009 hiking excursion. The Salem canine has climbed all 48 of the state's 4,000-foot peaks as of late fall and is now a member of the exclusive Four Thousand Footer Club. (COURTESY)

Happy trails (and tails) for a Salem dog that gets around

SALEM - If dogs had bumper stickers, Hershey's might read something like "This Dog Climbed Mount Washington."

As a matter of fact, the Labrador retriever has climbed the Granite State mountain not once, but four times . and counting.

As of late September, Hershey had climbed all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000-foot peaks: enough to make her a member of one of the state's most exclusive clubs for canines (and humans), the Four Thousand Footer Club.

Formed in 1957 by the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Four Thousand Footer list was introduced to encourage climbers to explore some of the lesser-known trails in the White Mountains. As of last spring, 10,098 people and 138 dogs have finished the list, according to the organization's website.

It's been about eight years since Michael Walker came home from a camping trip to find a bag of puppy chow on his porch. Walker didn't own a dog at the time. Or so he thought.

When the Salem resident was away, his wife and daughter became enamored with a photo of a tiny, chocolate-colored puppy on Petfinder, an online search engine matching shelter animals with new owners. "We drove to Rye to meet her and needless to say, we came home with the puppy," his wife, Susan, laughed. "Michael wasn't thrilled at the time, but (he) and Hershey are best buddies now."

One year after her adoption, Hershey and her new family travelled to Franconia Notch in the White Mountains and, much to the Walkers' delight, the frisky Labrador dog accompanied them to the top of both Lincoln and Lafayette peaks.

"She did two 4,000-foot climbs on the same day," Susan Walker recalled. Over the next three years, the family pet became a steady fixture on most outdoor excursions, sometimes with the entire family, though often travelling along as Michael Walker's loyal co-pilot.

Between 2005 and 2008, Hershey put a lot of miles on her four paws, climbing 46 different mountain peaks all across New Hampshire. There were many repeat visits, and many of their trips brought Hershey and her master to some of the state's most remote and beautiful spots.

Like most Labradors, Hershey loves to swim, so the Walkers often brought her to spots where the pup could frolic in a nearby pond or babbling mountain stream. Trips to the top of Fawn Cliff and Owl's Head peaks brought her nine miles into the forest, with Michael always carrying plenty of extra dog chow, bottled water and Hershey's travel bowl inside his pack.

In between hikes, she maintained her hulking, athletic form by walking around her Salem neighborhood.

By 2009, Hershey needed a good, long rest, having endured a brief bout of heat exhaustion during one of her excursions. "She's getting older now, so we decided to give her a bit of a break," Susan said. Hershey, however, had other ideas.

This past fall, Hershey conquered her final two peaks: Moriah and Cabot. "Those two are the furthest north and the hardest to get to as a day hike," Michael said.

While she's getting up there in dog years, Hershey isn't slowing down anytime soon, her owners said. "She's always the first one to jump in the car," said Susan. "She's been to New York, Vermont and Maine, too, but Hershey will always be a true New Hampshire dog."

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