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Hot Dog: A Canine Gym To Beat The Heat In Tucson

By Sarah Ventre
Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 5:32pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 8:24pm
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(Photo by Sarah Ventre - KJZZ)
Lucky works on balance and core exercises at A Loyal Companion canine gym and recreation center in Tucson.

Going to the gym can be a slog, even for the fittest among us. But for our canine companions, when Arizona’s summer heat is most punishing an inside work-out space can be a great alternative.

This Tucson gym made specifically for dogs is called A Loyal Companion. Inside, a small three-legged white poodle named Lucky is trying to stand on a balance pad. Lucky’s owner Sharyn McGrath is playfully encouraging him.

“You gotta get all three of your feet on there, I only see one foot on there,” she said. “There it is! Oh, what a good boy! Good boy, Lucky! You did it!”

It’s little victories like this that Kate Titus gets excited about. She is the owner and founder of this canine gym and recreation center.

The concept can be a tough one to wrap your head around, but it’s an awful lot like a human gym. There’s a room with exercise equipment, personal training, a pool and even massage. Titus is the masseuse and describes a massage that she’s giving to a therapy dog named Raven.

“I like to work in a circular motion,” she said. “I can feel the muscles underneath the pads of my thumbs and in the tips of my fingers and the pads of fingers. And I’m really, really just working those back and forth.”

It sounds a little overindulgent, but for Titus and the folks that bring their dogs here, it’s not about pampering their pets. It’s about keeping them healthy.

Just like people, some dogs need a little more help with that than others. For example, Lucky has some mobility challenges since he only has three legs. McGrath said staying fit is really important for his quality of life.

“And the vet said as long as he keeps his muscles strong then he should be okay,” she said.

Back at the pool, dogs Mia and Chloe are eagerly playing fetch in the water. Their owner Tracy McGarry is standing at the front of the pool smiling and taking turns throwing toys to each dog. She said the gym is better for her dogs than exercise in the Arizona heat.

“It’s kind of hot to be taking the dogs out on walks here,” said McGarry. “So we do like an early morning walk and then we come here and play. So, it’s been fantastic.”

Kate Titus opened the gym in January and said she has about 50 to 65 memberships at one time. Beyond the balance equipment and squeaky toys though, the gym offers something even more unusual: castings and fittings for dogs that need aids like braces or wheelchairs.

“What we do is post-rehabilitation,” said Titus. “So once they graduate from rehab and now they’re in maintenance, they come and see us and we either design programs for you, or they come in and just have fun in here.”

Titus said she was inspired to create the gym because of her dog, Harley. He has a number of health problems. He blew out both of his knees and has trouble walking. So for Titus, this gym is about making sure dogs stay strong and mobile as long as possible. Their clients seem a lot easier to deal with than ordinary gym rats.

“This is where we really differentiate ourselves from a human gym where you go and it’s like, ugh, I have to go to the gym today, because I’m going to get fat if I don’t," Titus said. "These guys come in here and it’s like, wow! We want to have fun! We get the game! We want to do it!”

Membership isn’t cheap, as it ranges anywhere from $29 to $149 a month. Titus maintains that this isn’t so bad when you consider that it could prevent your dog from getting an injury that could lead to a costly surgery. And while it’s clearly not for everyone, there are some owners who find massive benefits to it and even learn life lessons from their pups. One of these owners is Tiffanie Bialis, who has a tiny dog named Bonnie who works out at A Loyal Companion.

“You’d never know she was a three-legged dog unless you saw her from the right angle, right?” she said. “She walks pretty well. She does everything that everybody else does. And, you know, it’s a wonder about dogs. Dogs don’t know how to feel sorry for themselves so they just go through life like they’re perfect just the way they are. And I think that that’s so incredibly special.”

Now if only humans believed they were perfect the way they are, then we wouldn’t need so many human gyms.

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