Meet Phil Adams. He enjoys hiking, cheeseburgers and running through downtown St. Louis. This may sound like a personals ad, and in many ways, it is. Phil Adams is one of the many adoptable dogs in the Running Buddies Program at Stray Rescue. While he waits for his forever home, he runs.
The Running Buddies Program is one of the many enrichment programs at Stray Rescue, and it’s been in effect for about a year and a half. Jason Schipkowski, director of marketing and development, has been in his position for two and half years. The Running Buddies Program was one of his first projects.
“We had worked with some long-term volunteers on the logistics of the program, and it was a soft launch to see how it went. As time grew we could assess the dogs and how the staff grew,” Schipkowski said. “Our knowledge has grown just over the past eight months it has really taken off.”
There are between eight and 10 “approved” dogs currently on the Running Buddies list. It’s a great way not only for humans, but it gives shelter dogs exercise, socialization and different environments—all aspects that make the dog more adoptable, which is the end goal, along with making room to rescue more dogs off the streets.
“Approved” dogs have many ranges, but mostly are dogs with higher energy who struggle in the shelter environment. Training staff hones in on those dogs and start by walking them and slowly build up to the running portion, looking out for warning signs, dogs who get distracted a lot and for those who are natural runners.
Once dogs start the program, there is a log at the shelter where volunteers can write notes upon return. Runs usually start at a mile and then the list is cycled through and updated each run. For humans, it’s a great training tool for longer runs. Average 10 dogs, one mile per dog in the program, and a person in training could have 10 miles completed on a Saturday afternoon, all the while making 10 pups very happy.
Running Buddies currently has 15 active human volunteers, and it’s the second year that a team has been put together for the Go! St. Louis marathon.
“We just went to New Balance to talk about our enrichment programs, so it’s taking off in many different ways,” Schipkowski said. “Last year we had 70 people [on the Go! team]. With event sponsors and team members we raised $53,000 last year in our inaugural year.”
Marci Kelley is a devoted volunteer who has been a part of the Running Buddies program since last March. She had done some half marathons and wanted to do a whole marathon. She usually runs two miles or fewer with each dog, and on a typical day will run with four to five dogs.
“I definitely think you develop a bond. I’ve been running with some of the dogs for months now,” Kelley said. “The dogs keep it really interesting. I think that was the worst part about the full marathon—running 20 miles by myself.”
Kelley said that running with dogs is nice because they give you a chance to stop because they have to stop and sniff. Plus, they give her added motivation to keep running.
“I think one of my favorite parts of the program is how motivating it is. I think ‘OK I can do two more miles with just one more dog,” she said.
Schipkowski said that even though Running Buddies is an important enrichment program, it’s a cog in a very big wheel. The shelter environment is a great temporary home, second only to a permanent home.
“To look at it big picture, we are focusing on the individual dog and we focus on their specific behaviors, on having really great outlets for them,” he said. “We want them to become more adoptable—enhance that sense of community that makes Stray Rescue run so well. We have a compassionate army of people who help it run.”
Editor’s Note: As of publication time (Monday, April 29), Phil Adams was adopted from Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Congrats to Phil and his new family!
Stray Rescue of St. Louis is located in St. Louis, Mo. For more information on the Running Buddies program (or adopt a furry friend), visit online at www.strayrescue.org, or call (314) 771-6121.