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California Cross-Country Team Runs With Shelter Dogs to Get Them Adopted

The 5K run gave the dogs an opportunity to get fresh air and show their personalities.

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  • The second annual Fun Run with Lodi Animal Services was held in October in Lodi, California, to promote pet adoption.
  • At the event, the Tokay High School cross country team ran a 5K with shelter dogs through town in order to inspire people to adopt the animals.

    For many runners, dogs are more than best friends; they are faithful training buddies. But unfortunately, an estimated 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. shelters each year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

    To help pups at her local shelter find their forever homes—and training partners—Marta Deike, cross-country coach at Tokay High School in Lodi, California, created the Fun Run with Lodi Animal Services, an event in which her athletes would run a 5K around town with dogs in tow. The event kicked off for the first time last fall and returned this year on October 5.

    “In 2015, I saw a news piece about a high school coach who had taken his team on a run with the local shelter dogs,” Deike told Runner’s World. “I immediately contacted our local animal shelter and solicited the idea for Lodi.”

    The fun run featured a 5K out-and-back course in a local park. Bigger dogs complete the full 3.1 miles, while the tiny dogs walk the perimeter of the park. Since many of the animals have been cooped up in the shelter without ideal exercise, they have a lot of energy at the get-go, but tire out quickly.

    “The high school athletes get a great workout,” said Deike. “The dogs are usually quite out of shape and cannot run fast for long. But they do run fast for a short while, and during that time, the dogs challenge the runners to keep pace, which usually is faster than their PR race pace.”

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    Deike explained that dogs often spend anywhere from five days to five months or more in local shelters—and the longer they spend there, the less adoptable they become.

    “[After a long time in the shelter], they begin to develop ‘shelter stress’—barking, jumping, sometimes aggression—which might not have been their behavior initially and would not be their behavior once they are adopted,” said Deike.

    Last year’s event was particularly successful in terms of adoption rate, with all of the dogs receiving homes in the week following the event. This year, 17 out of the 20 adoptable dogs had found their forever homes.

    Not only do the dogs enjoy the event, but the runners do as well. Before the run, the high school girls’ and boys’ cross country teams went to the shelter to meet the dogs and practice running with them. By the end of the 5K, many runners had formed strong bonds with the pups.

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    Each of the high school runners paired off with a shelter dog to run 3.1 miles around the neighborhood.

    “The athletes end up falling in love with their dogs. They sometimes promote the adoption on social media, or sometimes they adopt the dog themselves,” said Deike.

    While the past two years the dogs have been handled only by the high school students, Dieke hopes to expand the event.

    “Cross-country athletes and the shelter dogs will still form the core of the run, but next year, the public will be invited to join them by running with their own dogs—many of whom had been adopted from the shelter,” said Dieke. “I can envision our entire town running through the streets with their dogs. That would be a pack!”

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