LUMBERTON — Alayna DeFalco wants to see everyone as excited to go for a walk as are Jersey Girl, P.J and Lucy, all dogs she gave a second leash on life.
“Have you ever jingled your keys, or went toward the cabinet or closet that keeps the leash?” DeFalco said. “Have you realized your dog’s reaction — instant energy.”
DeFalco, an exercise science lecturer at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a volunteer at the Robeson County Humane Society, wants that tail-wagging excitement to be the basis of a program that pairs dogs and humans in the fight against heart disease.
“Besides money and fame, what excites humans about exercise?” DeFalco said. “Why not use what’s already naturally an instinct to the animals and take advantage of it?”
The 12-week walking program, called Saving 2 Beating Hearts, will match up walkers with a dog at the no-kill shelter at 3180 W. Fifth St. The shelter will provide a walking log, scale and pedometer to keep the person on track.
The program begins Wednesday. DeFalco said it grew out of her twin passions — helping people to get interested in exercise as part of her job, and rescuing dogs during her spare time.
“Motivation was the key factor — how to keep people interested in exercising,” DeFalco said. “The more I was around these animals and my own dogs, it would amaze me, how excited and motivated they got. You didn’t have to say a word, you just show them the leash and they’re out the door before you are.”
For information, or to join the program, visit the shelter or www.saving2beatinghearts.webs.com. The website provides calculators to convert the number of steps into meaningful information such as distance walked and calories burned.
“They can even do it from home with their own dog if they just want to learn how to track their steps and what their steps mean,” DeFalco said. “Once you have your steps, you can find out how far you walked, how many calories you burned and weight loss goals.”
DeFalco is working on getting nonprofit status. She has two sponsors, Jerry Johnson Chevrolet and UNCP.
“Here is a person that is really called to saving animals,” said Johnson, who donated 100 pedometers. “She’s such a sweet person.”
DeFalco plans to mark a trail around the shelter that runs parallel to Interstate 95, and is getting a logo created.
“There will be a sign on the cages with the logo so they know which dogs are good on a leash and won’t pull them down the road,” DeFalco said.
She said the program will not only fight heart disease, but it will promote animal welfare.
“It’s socialization (and) getting them exercise because they are just sitting in their cages,” DeFalco said. “You never know if the participant will fall in love with their walking partner and want to take them home. It’s just more exposure.”
The shelter houses 23 to 33 dogs at a time.
Tami Kinlaw, a St. Pauls resident, walks dogs at the shelter a couple times a week. Kinlaw suffers from fibromyalgia, and said the walking helps keep her healthy.
“Any form of exercise is great and a lot of people don’t want to exercise without a partner to get motivated,” Kinlaw said. “Knowing that you are going there and doing good for this animal, it motivates you. When you get out there and he looks at you like, ‘Oh, I’m so thankful you got me out of my pen for just a few minutes.’ It does your heart good.”
DeFalco said her main goal is to have an indoor track in Lumberton.
“The future facility will house three rescue animals, freeing up space at the rescue and giving those animals a chance away from shelter life,” DeFalco said.
She also hopes to eventually join forces with Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s Heart Center, local veterinarians and Biggs Park Mall.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Kinlaw said. “It’s a win for the person, it’s a win for the animal. It’s also a win for the shelter because it allows the people they do have there to do other things that need to be done.”
- Features Editor Amanda Munger can be reached by phone at (910) 272-6144 or by e-mail at email@example.com.