Every Saturday is girls’ day out for Nelly Roach and Kiki Lovig. Since April, the women and their daughters, Kala Roach, 10, and Tess Lovig, 9, have met at Bear Creek Trail to share a morning walk with shelter dogs.
As Kala stretched in preparation for Saturday’s walk, Tiny, her new short-haired friend from the Central Missouri Humane Society, ran circles around her.
“I get lots of exercise, and I get to meet really cute and fun dogs,” Kala said. “I’m really surprised some of them don’t have homes.”
The weekly dog walks are part of a program called Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, a collaboration among the humane society, Second Chance Animal Rescue, the city and MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s Research Center for Human Animal Interaction, or ReCHAI.
Groups of as many as 12 walkers and their canine companions leave the Humane Society three times each Saturday morning. Officials mark a one-mile path and encourage participants to turn around on it after 30 minutes, although those who want can go farther. The cost is $10, which goes to the Central Missouri Humane Society.
“So far, there’s been a great turnout,” said Rebecca Johnson, ReCHAI’s director. “People are very supportive. They enjoy walking dogs very much and feel like they’re helping the community.”
Heather Duren Stubbs, shelter relations coordinator for the Central Missouri Humane Society, said the program is a way to give shelter dogs exercise and a chance at attracting owners for a home. Every week, an average of 173 animals come to the shelter, which has 156 kennels, said Patty Forister, the humane society’s executive director.
“It’s a great program because we get increased visibility for our animals and increase the amount of exercise they receive,” Stubbs said. “If they are available for adoption, can walk on a leash and be nice to other animals and people, they can go on a walk.”
In the six weeks of the program’s operation, three dogs have been adopted by their walkers. The summer is considered prime adoption season, and program coordinators are optimistic that Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound will help more animals find new homes before cooler weather sets in.
Like Heather Mueller, 36, most of the participants are current or former dog owners.
“When you have a pet that you love so much, you know how much love (the shelter dogs) deserve,” she said.
Several of Saturday’s participants said they were unable to have a dog of their own because of their schedules or because their landlords forbid pets. The program offers the chance to share their love for animals with pooches in need of affection.
Megan Hinerman, 19, had thought about doing volunteer work in Columbia for a while and decided to sign up for the Walk a Hound program.
“I would have him if I could,” said Hinerman, who was walking DaVinci, a Basset mix. “These dogs can be around other dogs, anyone can walk them, and they’re really good-natured.”
Mary C. Green, 60, said the program is more rewarding than simply giving money to the shelter.
“That’s not nearly as exciting as seeing a dog smile,” she said.
Green also has volunteered to participate in a ReCHAI study, run by Johnson, that aims to identify whether people who get involved with an exercise program, such as dog walking, increase the amount of exercise they get outside the program. Johnson and her assistants will document the changes in health and physical activity in some participants in the Walk a Hound program.
Adriana Kancijanic, 25, and Jared Hellensmith, 33, usually walk a mile and a half to two miles and are willing to work with hounds that could benefit from a firm hand and extra leash training.
On the other hand, Paquin Tower residents Claudia and Ralph Wade prefer tamer canines. Ralph, 72, holds his leash in one hand and his cane in the other. “(Dog walking) gets us outdoors and gives us a little bit of walking exercise, which we need,” said Claudia, 64.
The dogs don’t seem to care why their walkers show up every Saturday morning. For them, Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound gives the dogs a chance to get outside, interact with humans and explore the trail.
“People don’t just get to see a dog; they get to walk it and see if its personality works with their family,” said Tess Lovig.
Her friend Kala nodded in agreement:
“You get to see if they’re the right dog for you.”