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News and Events
Human-Animal Center Establishes
Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound Program

Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound ProgramTwo societal problems, obesity and unwanted pets in shelters, may have a common solution. A research program at the Research Center on Human Animal Interaction (ReCHAI), College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia, will pair people needing exercise with shelter animals wanting a walk.

Research shows the benefits of people walking dogs to lose weight and maintain active lifestyles, says Rebecca Johnson, PhD, RN, and ReCHAI director. A previous ReCHAI research study showed that enjoyable interaction with a dog changes body chemistry that enhances a person’s physical well being. Another study demonstrated that owning a dog prompts people to exercise more through dog walking, with the exercise promoting weight loss.

The high rate of obesity in US adults and children creates a compelling need for innovative projects aimed at increasing physical activity, Dr. Johnson states. A community dog walking project would increase physical activity among children and adults, educate the public about the health benefits of walking, increase community awareness about dogs available for adoption, and increase shelter dog adoption rates.

The program, which will begin Saturday, April 21, is a joint project by ReCHAI, the City of Columbia, Mo., Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, PedNet, Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary, Second Chance Animal Rescue, and the Central-Missouri Humane Society. Participation fees of $10 per walker will be donated to local shelters.

The program consists of Saturday community dog-walks held at the Bear Creek Trail in north Columbia. In Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, adults and families with children walk shelter dogs on existing trails in the park. Shelter dogs participating in the walks are selected by shelter staff based on adoptability, amicable personality, and ability to be walked.

Program participants will receive a t-shirt, and be given the opportunity to enroll in a study of their weight, blood pressure, mood, and physical activity patterns before and after participating in the program. Other organizations, such as the Missouri State Health Department, will provide health and nutritional information. Other health-related organizations may offer free obesity and blood pressure screenings.

“We anticipate that there will be weight loss and an increase in physical activity outside of the weekly dog walks among those who participate in the study,” Dr. Johnson relates. “We will also monitor dog adoption rates at the three local animal shelters before and after implementation of the project. Similar projects have been conducted in Indianapolis and Lubbock with favorable outcomes in people and in shelter adoption rates.”

Dr. Johnson is encouraged that people who start the project will participate each week. In the earlier Walking for Healthy Hearts project, 72 percent of participants consistently walked the dogs because they believed the dogs needed the walking.

For those not electing to participate in the weight-loss study, the Walk a Hound program will be a fun, family-oriented way to increase physical activity, Dr. Johnson says. She states that there is no reason why this pilot program could not be emulated statewide, particularly in rural areas where obesity is a greater problem.

ReCHAI researches ways that positive human-animal interaction can provide non-pharmaceutical therapy and health benefits. Another research project is measuring how visits with a dog affects mood, perception of health, and sense of coherence among cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Other projects are showing how pet attachment enhances the health and well being among ethnic elders, and how pets can help older adults more easily relocate to a nursing home.

Dr. Johnson also is the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing.

For more information about ReCHAI, see the web page at: http://rechai.missouri.edu/

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Last Update: February 24, 2012