Kona really, really needs a patch of grass.
Camo yearns for a chew toy.
And Sandy needs a silky head to pat.
So they all come together on a bright, clear day after the rain at the Humane Society of Central Arizona for the Stroll of the Dog Walkers.
The dogs come in all shapes and sizes — black, golden, brown and white.
Most of the pups have shrugged off a hard life.
Kicked and hit.
Starved and left behind.
But the seven ladies who gather here know that each pooch deserves a pat on the head, a trot down the sidewalk, a kind word — even love.
“Camo has had a hard life, beaten and abandoned,” said Teresa DuMarce, looking down at the shar-pei mix with a wide tawny face crisscrossed with scars. The hair on her pit bull nose feels silky as cat fur. Camo rolls her eyes up in pure bliss as Kaya Kotzen leashes her up for her daily stroll.
The volunteer dog walkers meet every day at 7:30 a.m. outside the Humane Society of Central Arizona’s location at 605 W. Wilson Court, off of McLane Road and Main Street.
They match up dogs to walkers based on their strength, height, weight and age.
Some pull hard, like Kansas, Teresa DuMarce’s pit bull mix walking buddy.
“Where Kansas wants to go, Kansas goes,” laughs DuMarce.
On the other hand, Kansas also always walks around with a goofy grin and a plastic, truck tire chew toy in her mouth, like a baby with a binky. No one knows why she loves that chew toy, but volunteers gently take it away before she goes back in the shelter so she won’t swallow bits and pieces — a medical emergency in the making.
But for the walk, Kansas can have the chew toy.
“It just makes her happy,” said DuMarce.
That’s the key to dog walking — meet the pooch where they’re at.
If they need a drink, set up bowls of fresh water on the route before other volunteers arrive. If they need an extra walk, linger for another lap. If they need more socializing, take one home for some family time.
Take Kona, spry but older — golden down to her eyes.
Kona has special issues.
“She wants to be the only dog,” said Sandy Hatch, Kona’s handler for the day.
She also has allergies — and sometimes chews herself until she bleeds.
Those traits have complicated her search for a home.
Still, Kona exudes pure joy when on grass.
“Just wait, she will roll,” says Hatch with a grin.
Sure enough, Kona buries her face in the grass, then rolls onto her back — all four legs waving in the air.
“That’s a good girl,” says Hatch.
The walk is the high point of the day for some volunteers.
“This is how I get rid of my dog fetish,” said Hatch, who travels too often to have a dog of her own.
HSCAZ, the only animal shelter from Happy Jack in the north to Heber in the east and Globe to the south, takes in pets that owners must leave due to death, health or living circumstances.
The walks with the volunteers remain the only time the dogs get out of their concrete and chain link kennels. HSCAZ will keep an animal as long as they’re adoptable. But sometimes, the stress of the kennel life causes them to develop an illness or injury that mortally wounds them.
So DuMarce and the other volunteers provide connection, joy and mental stimulation for animals that sometimes have suffered great trauma.
Take Sarge, a lumbering German shepherd whose owner used to kick, beat and yell at him.
Sue Curry waits patiently with Sarge as other dogs take a drink at the halfway point. Despite his dark coat and the bright sun, he never makes a fuss.
Once Sarge reaches the grass, he immediately flops down in the shade to pant and relax.
“He’s a gentle soul,” says Curry gently, giving him a scratch behind the ears.
She has a special bond with the German shepherd as she just lost her own.
Sometimes love works both ways.
For more information about the humane society or to volunteer, call 928-474-559 or visit https://humanesocietycentralaz.org/.