High school cross country teams are running with the dogs; shelter dogs actually, which helps them get out of the kennel and into a home.
Here’s a pawsome idea from the Steinbrenner High School Boys Cross-Country Team, who takes shelter dogs running in a beautiful Tampa park. It’s an bright idea that could easily go nationwide, giving shelter dogs an escape from the kennel and socialization to make them more adoptable. Not to mention, it’s a great outlet for people and leads to more adoptions for the shelter pets! Since the dogs get lots of exercise, it helps them feel less anxious and nervous in the shelter too.
Early in the morning, before practice, the students from the Lutz, Florida, school dropped by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. There, they picked up a shelter dog to go for a run in Al Lopez Park. The 132-acre park allows leashed dogs and has a fenced, leash-free dog park area with dog water fountains. The students have been helping the shelter dogs this way since 2017, starting when one of the student’s moms reached out to the Humane Society.
“Our three pillars of our cross-country team [are] gentleman, scholar, and athlete, and this really satisfies that gentleman area of caring for something that cannot care for itself,” Allison Szponar, the head coach of the team, told Fox13.
The Humane Society of Tampa Bay shared that Coach Ennis implemented the idea and continued coming to the shelter to run with shelter dogs after retirement.
“Even though Coach Ennis is no longer teaching, he comes in every morning and takes a dog running at Al Lopez Park. He makes sure to make the dog comfortable first by spending time with them at the shelter for an hour or so before the run; that is a huge commitment of time and love for our pups. It gets better … he always asks who is our longest resident and who has a lot of energy and needs to RUN so that he can make sure they get the enrichment they need. You are the best, Coach E,” the Humane Society shared in 2021.
Video below shared via Instagram/ goodnewsdog:
Shelter Dogs Running with Cross Country Teams
While the Cross-Country Team gets a workout, they also give the shelter dogs some fun and freedom in the sun. It’s the best medicine for all; sometimes, the guys fall in love with their dogs. One of the dogs, named Lucas, became a favorite mascot. As a deaf dog, he had a harder time finding a home, but they shine a light on dogs like Lucas.
While running, the team also helps promote what they do in the community when curious people ask what they’re up to. In addition, they promote the doggos on social media, which leads to more awareness for the shelter.
“We’ll post some of the dogs and everything on our social media so that it just tries to get the word out a little more. Some of these dogs, the guys really fall in love with and they don’t want to take them back,” said Szponar.
Giving the dogs a fun time in the sun gives them time to release pent-up energy and feel more relaxed. Recently, a women’s running group also began taking the shelter pets out for their runs too!
Of course, you don’t have to go running to spend time with shelter pets. Recently, we shared another idea from a company that partnered with the Tampa Humane Society to bring adoptable cats and dogs to weddings.
Video by Fox13 Tampa Bay:
California Team Runs with Shelter Dogs
Once a good idea takes off, there is no turning back. In 2016, Coach Luis Escobar from St. Joseph’s High School in California encouraged the Cross Country team to run with local shelter dogs. He got the idea from a friend at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, and it took off from there. A company even donated special dog running harnesses (see video below).
“We’ve gotten some national media attention, which has been exciting — a little surreal,” said Stacy Silva, community outreach coordinator for Animal Services. “Overall, the result has been overwhelmingly positive, and we cannot wait to do it again.”
Viral video by Luis Escobar via YouTube:
Coach Luis says the kids got community credits for participating, which helped encourage the program. One of the students, Joshua Menusa, adopted Fred, the dog he met (and carried), and the team and dogs loved the experience.
“The whole team had a lot of fun. The dogs had a lot of fun,” Menusa said. “It was just a really exciting day for everybody.”
Later, the viral videos of the team led to adoptions for most of the featured dogs. Plus, it encouraged other teams and shelters nationwide to try the idea too! Today, you can see many similar stories on social media as school teams run with shelter pets.
Here is Coach Lewis on the Rachael Ray Show: