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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

Shelter dog program aims to 'rescue' workers

By Wendy Leonard, Deseret News

Published: Wed, July 16 4:08 p.m. MDT

 Shasta licks Sandy Nelson during the grand launch of the Human Walking Project at the Salt Lake County Government Center, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. The program gives employees a chance to pet, walk and adopt dogs from Salt Lake County Animal Services.

Shasta licks Sandy Nelson during the grand launch of the Human Walking Project at the Salt Lake County Government Center, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. The program gives employees a chance to pet, walk and adopt dogs from Salt Lake County Animal Services.

(Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Teresa Howes stood under a tree outside her office cuddling with a miniature pinscher mix.

"Oh, you are so special, so cute and I love you," she told the 5-month-old dog as she nuzzled her during her Wednesday lunch hour.

Howes, who works as a training specialist with the Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services, has been thinking about getting a companion pup for her small, 3-year-old dog at home, and it seemed "Barbie" was the perfect fix.

"She just looks like mine, and mine needs a sister," Howes said.

Then again, there were several other adoptable dogs visiting the Salt Lake County Government Complex for the Human Walking Project, which aims to get people outside to break up a potentially long day spent at a desk.

"You hear of people who say they rescued their dog from a shelter, but in this way, dogs are rescuing humans from their office cubicles," said Sandy Nelson, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Animal Services.

Nelson said Wednesday's event is the first of many that will be announced on the agency's website.

"We hope to encourage people to get away from their desks, get outside, pet a dog and de-stress," she said.

The Human Walking Project also puts the shelter dogs in a more favorable light, outside of their usual kennels, allowing them to showcase their personalities better, Nelson said.

"Interacting with other dogs and with people — this is their element," she said. "It helps take the stress from the workday away, and the dogs are more than happy to oblige that."

Salt Lake County Animal Services, 511 W. 3900 South, is housing about 115 dogs, including several that are temporarily caged there after being found wandering the streets of Salt Lake. Nelson said she hopes the Human Walking Project, patterned after a similar successful pet adoption program in Canada, also leads to more home placements for the Utah dogs.

"You feel for them because they need a home," said Lisa Hamilton, a self-proclaimed dog owner who works for Salt Lake County Behavioral Health Services. She also stepped out Wednesday to walk a dog on her break.

Hamilton said she is always trying to convince her co-workers to adopt a pet.

"It's good for you," she said. "Having a pet increases your life span."

Human Walking Project events will be held at various locations throughout the county and likely just once a month.

"This is the best lunch break ever," said Emily Woody, an office coordinator at the complex. "If I could play with dogs every day on my lunch, I would never have a bad day."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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