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Man’s best workout partner

Commitment to canines motivates exercisers

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  • Story by Lisa Bruce
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: Aug. 1, 2007
A dog on a walk

An eager black lab mix strains at the leash of a Walk a Hound participant.

On a humid Saturday morning, the dull thud of drums from a band practicing in a nearby storage space lays a backbeat as waves of barks rise and fall inside the Central Missouri Humane Society. Heather Eastman-Mueller drinks water, sweat glistening on her cheeks. She’s just returned from a three-mile run with two dogs, and she’s back to go again with two more.

Eastman-Muller read about the Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound program in the newspaper and has been coming every Saturday. Mimi, a chocolate lab mix, has become one of her favorites.

“If I could take her home today, I would,” Eastman-Mueller says. She already has two golden retrievers and three cats at home.

Stephanie Lewis, another participant, just moved to Missouri from New York and had to leave Moses, her Irish wolfhound mix, with family. Lewis says she “needs to be around a dog” and likes the increased exercise.

Sticking with a program

The MU College of Veterinary Medicine's Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI), the Central Missouri Humane Society, the City of Columbia Parks & Recreation Department and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services collaborate on the program. Participants sign up for a four-week session and walk shelter dogs for one hour on Saturday mornings. So far, 100 people have participated. Thirty-nine of those individuals have been part of a research study investigating if participation in the program stimulates additional exercise.

Eastman-Muller with dog, Mimi

Mimi, a chocolate lab mix, has run with Heather Eastman-Mueller on several Saturdays.

Almost 36 percent of Missourians are overweight, and 27 percent are obese, according to 2006 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rebecca Johnson, Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and director of ReCHAI, says people typically stick to exercise programs 20 to 30 percent of the time. In a previous study that she conducted of people walking dogs for exercise, participants adhered to the program 72 percent of the time.

“In that study, the participants’ view was that the dogs needed them when actually the dogs were employees of the study,” Johnson says. “The difference in this study is that the dogs are shelter dogs who really do need to be walked.” Johnson hopes for a similar adherence rate and also an increase in exercise outside of the study.

Hound walking across the state

The program and study recess in early August and resume Sept. 22–Nov. 2. Johnson has written a proposal to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to take the program statewide over a three-year period to eventually include 18 locations. 

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012