When Chantelle Wallace, from Austin, TX, contacted us and shared her story, we couldn’t resist sharing it with the world. This is a story of compassion for dogs, and that compassion turning in to a new found excitement for running. Combining the two can be rewarding, especially when you know you are making a positive impact for dogs in local shelters, awaiting their new homes. We hope you enjoy and find motivation in Chantelle’s story.
Six years ago I started volunteering at my local animal shelter after learning that dogs didn’t get out of their kennels unless volunteers or customers took them – there was no staff position dedicated to giving dogs breaks from their concrete enclosures. This was shocking considering that many dogs arrive at the shelter potty-trained; it also seemed that most of the dogs were high-energy types in need of significant exercise.
I originally just planned to take dogs out for potty and playtime in pens, however as a way of helping the especially-energetic pups blow off steam and behave better for potential adopters, I began taking them on jogs around a lake located near the shelter. I’d run cross country in high school, but definitely didn’t consider myself a distance runner and had no interest in ever completing a half or full marathon – that sounded like torture.
Yet as I joined these elated, energetic pups on their outings around the lake’s three-mile loop, I found a joy and larger purpose in running that became addictive. Because a tired dog is usually a more-mannerly dog, these runs made a dramatic difference in the dogs’ behavior and attractiveness to potential adopters. I was soon taking four dogs on runs each Saturday morning, which equaled 12 miles. Then it became five dogs and then six. My focus was on getting the dogs exercised rather than getting myself in shape, so it was relatively easy to work up to more mileage!
Soon I incorporated a waist leash into my routine, so I could be hands-free and focus on my running form. Then I started outfitting the pups with a backpack to carry the water and Gu packets. This backpack also doubled as a way of slowing the dogs down a bit, which was helpful as most of them would prefer to sprint around the lake at a 5:40-mile rather than my significantly-slower pace.
Thanks to my furry running friends, I completed my first full marathon in 2010. I’ve gone on to finish two more marathons. Adding a canine component to your running routine is massively motivating – exercise used to feel self-indulgent to me, but when I incorporated shelter dogs into my workouts, it took on a meaning that kept me coming back for more and ultimately led to fitness achievements that had always seemed out of reach.
No matter where you live, there are shelter dogs who would love to join and inspire your workouts. Some cities have organized groups to run shelter dogs, but if yours doesn’t, I highly recommend signing up as a volunteer at your local shelter and asking them to take the pups out on runs. If you’d like to add other dog-and-running-loving humans to the mix, start a meetup.com group to find friends to join you on these outings of getting in shape while making the world a better place for homeless dogs.