I have lived in the Tri-Cities for years and until last weekend, I had no idea that porcupines existed in this part of the state. On New Year’s Day, we decided to take a hike with our dog through the McNary National Wildlife Refuge (Madam Dorion Memorial Park) which is located just before the Highway 12/730 junction in Wallula. We took the sandy horse trail along the river which is mostly sagebrush and grass but has a spectacular view of the Wallula Gap and surrounding hills. It was the perfect spot to let our Decker Terrier off leash to roam and explore, at least it appeared that way.

As we were strolling along, I noticed some dark sagebrush moving. It wasn’t windy so I was curious as to how a shrub would move as it did. When I looked closer it began to walk – that’s when I realized it wasn’t sagebrush, it was a porcupine (image below).

Photo: P. Hinkson
Photo: P. Hinkson McNary National Wildlife Refuge

Luckily, I saw it before the dog did and was able to leash her before she started growling and barking. My wife and I were shocked, we’ve lived and hiked in the Tri-Cities area for years and didn’t know we had them in our environment.

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We kept walking and after a bit we took the dog off leash again, thinking it was a crazy once-in-a-lifetime chance meeting with a porcupine. Well, we were wrong, in fact, in less than a mile we came across three more porcupines – all of them looked like sagebrush and didn’t move until we were nearly on top of them. Needless to say, we kept our dog on a leash for the rest of the hike. When we reached our vehicle in the parking area the dog started growling again, and sure enough, there was another one just a few feet from us in the brush.

Photo: P. Hinkson
Photo: P. Hinkson - McNary National Wildlife Refuge

There is a large population of porcupines in the Columbia Basin

According to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, it isn’t rare to run across porcupines in the Columbia Basin, and although they’re easily recognizable, they’re hard to spot, as their dark brown fur and quills look a lot like grass and dark shrubs. Porcupines don’t have good vision but have a keen sense of smell and hearing and will know of your presence long before you see them.  If they feel threatened they may click their teeth or growl, and most definitely will put their quills up. By the way, they can’t shoot their quills at you or a dog – that’s a myth.  However, they do use their quills to fend off predators and curious dogs.

Porcupine quills can do great harm to dogs if not treated immediately


When a dog gets quilled by a porcupine it is best to take them to your vet and let them handle it. Your dog will have to be sedated and some quills may never be completely removed, which can cause complications later. Read more on the effects porcupine quills can have on your pooch here.  Oh, and dogs typically don’t learn their lesson after the first time being quilled and will go back for more porcupine pain if given the opportunity.

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