By Kristin Kish

Rufftail Runners (http://www.rufftailrunners.org) encourages runners to take shelter dogs for a run or walk. This program gives dogs and their handlers a chance to spend time together while working out. I have been a Rufftail Runner volunteer for 1.5 years now.  It’s one of my favorite things to do because I can help them while exercising,  something I do anyway.

Furthermore, I have met some of my best doggy friends here.

Baxter, a seven-year-old Cattle Dog/ Australian Blue Heeler Mix, has been with Austin Pets Alive for 45 days and counting.  Although he’s a senior, he doesn’t know it. By joining the Rufftail Runners walking team, Baxter can get out and burn some of his excess energy up to two times a day. On the trail, Baxter loves taking in every new scent and sight. From squirrels zooming past to taking a swim in the lake, he soaks up every moment on the trail.  Baxter is eager to get to the trail each day but quickly settles down into a nice pace.  After returning from the trail, he lays down in his comfy bed for a post-walk nap.

My other bestie is Cersi. Although recently adopted, she spent 250+ days in the shelter.  Cersi often stood up on her gate greeting every visitor that passed.  The visitors passing by saddened her.  Once on the trail, she turned into an entirely different dog.  She would pull with anticipation as we got closer to the trail.  Cersi was a running dog who ran the 3-mile loop twice a day with ease. With each step, she would grow more confident.  Her tail went from tucked between her legs to full-fledged wagging by the end of the run.  Getting time outside the shelter was essential to keeping her stress levels down.

The dogs act differently as soon as they leave the shelter.  A dog that may be shy or reactive in the shelter may turn into a dog with confidence and pride once they’re on the trail. Getting the dogs to the trail stimulates them with new smells, sights, and a glimpse of what life is like outside of the shelter.   Potential adopters, who wouldn’t go to the shelter, can also see the dogs.

Rufftail Runners also benefits volunteers in unconventional ways After a stressful day of classes I often come to the trail with a dog to unwind and relax.  Fellow volunteers who have trained for runs with their Rufftail furry friend.  Their personalities and fun quirks appear. It’s a new kind of connection with each dog, in addition to getting in a workout for both you and the dog. The program is for dogs of all sizes and ages.  From dogs with wheelchairs to dogs who just need a break, Rufftail Runners works.  Dogs return from the trail calm, which presents better to adopters.

Rufftail Runners can help dogs and shelters nationwide. This program can be implemented into shelters with minimal upkeep once it’s up and running. To learn more about Rufftail Runners visit http://www.rufftailrunners.org.

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