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Take TikTok ‘loaner dog’ snowshoeing in Idaho

Rio makes new friends constantly at historic Idaho lodge

By Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman
Published: February 17, 2024, 6:11am
2 Photos
Rio, the Galena Lodge &ldquo;loaner dog&rdquo; whom guests can take on their outings, sits Jan. 26 in the snow in front of the Galena View snowshoe trail sign in Idaho.
Rio, the Galena Lodge “loaner dog” whom guests can take on their outings, sits Jan. 26 in the snow in front of the Galena View snowshoe trail sign in Idaho. (Photos by Nicole Blanchard/Idaho Statesman) Photo Gallery

BOISE, IDAHO — Within minutes of walking into Galena Lodge, a historic Nordic skiing and snowshoeing cabin north of Ketchum, my friend Emily and I caught a glimpse of the dog that made it wildly viral on social media recently.

A small window from the second-floor office looks over the lodge, framed by a crossed pair of vintage Nordic skis. That’s where we spotted Rio, Galena Lodge’s now-famous “loaner dog,” his freckled snout resting on the sill, and his brown eyes and slightly off-kilter ears taking in the sights and sounds below.

A nine-second video of Rio went viral on TikTok, amassing 6.4 million views, nearly 1 million likes and more than 1,000 comments. The video — filmed by user @squidwestra, who describes herself as a content creator from Los Angeles — pans from a view of a man drinking coffee at a dining table up to the window, where Rio peeks out above a yellow sign reading “loaner dogs.”

“The fact that we saw him after we went cross country skiing and didn’t bring him makes me (crying emojis),” the caption reads.

Rio’s owner, Chelan Oldemeyer, said the pup’s fame has been unexpected. She and her husband, Kyle, who took over as concessionaires running Galena Lodge in 2023, had never used TikTok before Rio’s brush with fame.

“An old staff member was the first one to tell us,” Oldemeyer told me in an interview. “We got a text: ‘Did you know your dog’s going viral on TikTok?’”

Since then, they’ve received notes from friends and family across the country each time someone stumbles onto the video.

Rio isn’t the lodge’s first loaner dog. Oldemeyer said it’s a tradition that was started by previous owners. Rio, a 2-year-old husky/shepherd mix, took on the job in April. Since then, Galena Lodge has commemorated Rio and his sister, Fly (who prefers to spend her days in the office), with T-shirts bearing the dogs’ image at the window.

“Everybody loves a dog,” Oldemeyer told me. “And there are very few places you get to go see a dog sticking their head out a window like that.”

Oldemeyer said Rio’s newfound internet fame has brought in a few more folks, but it hasn’t translated to a boom in business for the remote lodge. She told me all kinds of people take advantage of the loaner dog offer: dog lovers, out-of-towners who had to leave their dog at home, and parents who are looking for a little motivation to get their kids on the trail.

The program is simple: If you’d like Rio’s company on your outing, just ask an employee. There’s no waiver, application or other hoops to jump through. Rio must be on-leash when he’s adventuring with new friends, and he sports a GPS collar so the Oldemeyers can check in on him while he’s out.

TikTok commenters gushed over the doggie lookout and said more businesses should adopt the idea.

“Look at him peek out like, ‘Who’s gonna be my friends today,’” one commenter wrote.

Hundreds more said they’d be happy to borrow Rio for a ski or snowshoe trek — or maybe just for a cuddle.

“He’s got the sad eyes down,” Oldemeyer said. “He just tugs at everyone’s heartstrings.”

He certainly tugged at ours. After coming across the TikTok video last month, we knew we had to make the three-hour drive from Boise to add a four-legged friend to our favorite winter sport.

A trek through the loop

When Emily and I arrived at Galena Lodge on a bluebird Friday, we saw Rio surveilling from his window, ears flickering at the sound of Oldemeyer’s voice. We grabbed our snowshoe passes and got a trail recommendation from Oldemeyer, the Galena View loop, before strapping on our snowshoes.

An employee at the rental shop retrieved Rio from the office, and Oldemeyer gave us the rundown on what to expect from our adventure buddy.

At just 2 years old, Rio is very much a puppy — Oldemeyer warned us that he loves to play and may need a stick to carry or a firm “Leave it!” if he becomes too rambunctious.

As we headed off from the lodge, Rio confidently took the lead. He set a brisk pace and pulled just enough to give me an extra boost for the initial uphill on the nearly 1-mile trail.

The packed snowshoe-only route traversed a few groomed Nordic ski trails, which are maintained by the Blaine County Recreation District. The district has owned the lodge since the 1990s, when the community held a fundraiser to purchase the building for the county. It maintains dozens of miles of trails around the lodge, many of which are used for hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

We climbed a bit through pine trees and over a short bridge before coming to the lollipop part of the Galena View loop. We let Rio choose which way to go — he opted for clockwise — and began circling the mountain.

At the loop, the landscape opened up into gorgeous views of a snow-covered meadow and the namesake Galena Peak. We watched skiers speed by on groomed trails that wind through the clearing and marveled at the frosty landscape as we circled back to the beginning of the loop.

In all, the trek took us about an hour. The hike would’ve been wonderful regardless, but Rio’s presence added a little extra to the experience.

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As we returned to the lodge, we bid our furry friend goodbye and handed him off to the folks at the rental shop, only for him to immediately find a new group to head out with instantly.

Monica Harding, of Portland arrived to snowshoe with her husband, David, and son, Ben, just as we returned. Their plans for downhill skiing at Sun Valley, where her son works, had been derailed by a shoulder injury. Instead, they’d opted for an easier pace on snowshoes.

Harding told the Idaho Statesman she had read about the loaner dog program on Galena Lodge’s website and found the idea “super charming.”

“I was totally intrigued,” Harding said.

Her family took Rio on Galena View, too.

“The view was gorgeous, and the dog was an added bonus,” Harding said.

Even if you can’t make it to Galena Lodge, you can keep tabs on Rio with a new Instagram account the Oldemeyers made for him at riotheloanerdog.

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