By Paula Rivadeneira
Mike Gray, canine behavior and enrichment specialist with the Humane Society of Central Texas, has a big job on his hands making sure every shelter dog gets the exercise and enrichment they need each day. He depends on volunteers who come to the shelter to help run dogs to their daily playgroup activities every morning.
While dogs love playgroup and have shown huge improvements in their behavior and adaptability with regular participation, one-on-one interaction with humans in normal everyday activities is also critical in managing kennel-related stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that when a dog goes on a day trip from a shelter, their stress levels decrease and they sleep better. That’s why HSCTX promotes Doggy Daycations in which volunteers can pick up a shelter dog, take them out on the town, enjoy some snacks, have a walk in the park, or even cuddle at home on the couch. At the end of the day, the dog comes back to the shelter more relaxed.
With so many dogs needing high levels of exercise and enjoying Doggy Daycations, Mike came up with the idea of Alpha Dog Academy. The goal is for people who walk, run, or hike to pick up a shelter dog on their way to their activity, and HSCTX will track their miles for a friendly competition between gyms.
There are four local gyms as well as a local running company, with members now signed up to participate — JR Crossfit, Train Waco, Anytime Fitness, 15:10 Crossfit, and Waco Running Co. Each month the miles will be totaled, and the winning gym will get to hold onto a huge trophy that was generously donated by Warren’s Engraving. Each month, the winning gym’s name will be engraved on the trophy.
Participants will undergo a short training about expectations and dog handling before their first session, and a Pet Matchmaker will pair them with the dog that matches their energy level and goals. Dogs can be picked up 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and they will be returned to the shelter by 5 p.m. This gives dogs an excellent opportunity to get out their energy, socialize, and be exposed to potential adopters while serving as an exercise buddy and motivator to the volunteers.
Plus, there are added benefits to exercising with a dog, including the increased safety it provides and the good feelings that come from working out for a cause.
Sign up for Alpha Dog Academy here. If you are not affiliated with a gym, don’t worry! Individual participants are welcome to join, too.
The Humane Society of Central Texas, 2032 Circle Road, is open 1-6 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. The last meet-and-greet is 45 minutes before closing. Staff must accompany guests through the kennels, and COVID precautions are observed. Bring your own dogs and everyone who lives in your household to the meet and greet so your family can be matched with the perfect pet.
The Humane Society of Central Texas advocates for the animals at the City of Waco Animal Shelter; provides adoption, rescue and foster opportunities; and offers community education regarding responsible pet ownership. The partnership between HSCTX and the City of Waco Animal Services, along with the support of the community, has resulted in a current average live-exit rate above 90%, giving the Waco Animal Shelter No-Kill status.
Paula Rivadeneira, Ph.D., is executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].