Dogs that are housed in a pet shelter don’t have the most exciting life. They have to share attention from shelter staff with a number of other dogs and cats. This means that, by necessity, they spend a lot of time in a pen, either on their own or with other dogs. They become bored and can develop bad habits such as barking and chewing. Many shelters are implementing environmental enrichment programs to alleviate boredom in these dogs, such as music, daily playtime, and the use of treat-dispensing toys.
A Texas running club has partnered with a local animal rescue group to establish a running program for shelter dogs called RuffTail Runners. Club members are partnered with dogs to take them out for a run on a regular basis. The dogs wear collars or bandanas that say “Adopt Me” that catch the eye of the public while they’re out running.
Running with a shelter dog doesn’t just make them more visible to potential adopters; it also has a number of other benefits. High-intensity exercise releases chemicals known as endocannabinoids in their brain that makes them calm and happy. It also burns up their excess energy so they’re less likely to show undesirable behaviors such as barking and pacing. Those dogs that interact with people and are exercised regularly are usually more relaxed when there are visitors to the shelter. If they’re not whining and jumping at the kennel door, they may be more likely to find a new forever home.
As a runner, you also benefit from these programs. You’re more likely to go out for a run when you know that there’s a dog that needs you to take them for an outing. Accountability is a great motivator! The dog can be a deterrent to unwanted attention especially if you’re a woman running alone. Lastly, it’s not always possible to support pet shelters in the more usual ways. Not everybody can foster a dog nor donate to the cause. Running with a dog doesn’t take a lot of time and you’ll be making a big difference to that dog’s well-being.
There are several of these shelter running programs popping up across the United States. Washington Humane Society has PACK (People and Animal Cardio Klub), Tucson, Arizona, has a group called Ruff Runners and Richmond SPCA, Virginia, has their Running Buddies Volunteer Program. A quick Google search will tell you if there’s a local group seeking volunteer runners.
If there aren’t any existing programs in your area, perhaps you’d consider starting one. Most shelters would love to see their canine residents enjoy a good exercise session, and the dogs would also appreciate it. It’s very likely that any of shelter running programs that are already succeeding would be happy to offer you advice in how to get started; they see how beneficial it is for their dogs and would be thrilled to see the concept expand. Taking a shelter dog for a run is a very practical way that people can make a difference to the lives of these dogs without involving monetary donations or excessive amounts of time.