Runners and walkers in Richmond can’t wait to lace up each week to help give Richmond SPCA dogs a little exercise, love and socialization.
“It’s so amazing to see a dog out on a run,” said one of the program coordinators Dana Taylor (pictured in center of main photo). “Sometimes their personality completely changes from what you see when you first meet them.”
There are about 20 volunteers who take part in the Richmond SPCA Running Buddies program. They meet three times a week, with each person taking 2 or 3 dogs on a 3.1-mile route they’ve mapped out in the neighborhood around the shelter. Dogs with medical issues will often do half-route walks.
It’s an absolute brilliant idea for so many reasons.
“Getting exercise and socialization relaxes them, and you can tell they love it!” said Dana, who is also the director of risk management and patient advocacy for a hospital system in Richmond.
There’s also a research component. The volunteers gather crucial information to pass along to potential adopters, which helps lead to fewer dogs being returned to the shelter because of surprise issues popping up.
“We get to know what scares them, how they feel about squirrels, birds, and cats, and how they feel about people on bikes or scooters passing by them – all great info for the new family,” said Dana.
Dana has been a running buddy for 5 years. The group meets 3 times a week – Saturday and Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. The have become a beloved part of her week.
“It’s very motivating,” said Dana. “When you know that a certain dog is waiting for you to go for a run, you’re a lot less likely to sleep in. I hate missing my Running Buddies sessions.”
The fitness factor is an important aspect for Dana and the other volunteers, but this experience is so much more.
“Running Buddies is a unique opportunity for us to combine our love of running with our love of animals,” said Dana. “I’m running with a dog named Hotchner now. He gets so excited when he sees me that I have to get him to sit to enter his kennel. We have a little routine now: he sits, I give him a treat, he gives me “kisses,” then I put on his harness and we head out.”
The dogs have to be cleared to participate in the program and, given all the benefits it offers, staff members are eager to get their pups accepted. Dana’s relationship with the workers at the Richmond SPCA is just one more reason she keeps coming back.
“I have never met a more dedicated group of people who truly love what they do and they really love the animals in their care,” said Dana. “We have a great relationship with the staff, they will often approach us to see if a dog has been cleared for Running Buddies because they know he/she needs to exercise. It’s really pretty common to walk in and have a kennel tech or adoption counselor greet us with, ‘I’m so glad to see you, Chuck really needs his run today!”
The one downfall of taking part in Running Buddies (if you can even call it a downfall) is how often you fall in love.
Dana, who has three rescue dogs of her own, will never forget Altro. As she watched his progress, they bonded.
“Altro and I were introduced because he needed someone willing to work with his issues – anxiety and fear of strangers,” explained Dana. “It was thought that he would benefit from Running Buddies. We started to run together and I also did some training with him for about 8 months before he was adopted. During our time together, he blossomed! He became a loving, disciplined, confident dog.”
The Running Buddies volunteers try to make sure as many dogs as possible have the same opportunities as Altro.
One-on-one attention. Time away from the kennels. New smells!
“Some have favorite patches of grass to use for back scratches and sunbathing, and they all know which shrubs have been marked,” laughed Dana. “With the “high strung” dogs, you can honestly see the tension melt away during those three miles once they get outside in the sunshine and have 30-40 minutes of freedom.”
It’s a moving concept. Freedom for these deserving dogs as they wait for someone to scoop them up and love them forever. And a special mission for those who make it happen.
“Quite frankly, my time with these dogs is probably what keeps me sane,” said Dana. “I’m not sure that I can adequately explain how much I get from this experience – it’s more than just exercise and spending time with dogs – you develop relationships with them, and the others who do this.”
Fetching Apparel is excited to be partnering with the Richmond SPCA this month. When you shop at www.Fetching-Apparel.com from now through April 30, 40% of profits will go to this dedicated organization. Go get it!