Imagine living alone in a tiny, unfurnished studio apartment surrounded by loud neighbors. And you can only leave a few times each day for a bathroom break. If someone came by to meet you in this setting, would you be on your best behavior?
Such is the life of many shelter dogs, and the reason high-energy breeds often get passed over for adoption.
Enter Miles & Mutts. This group of dedicated volunteers runs dogs from the Better Days Animal League in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, every Sunday whenever weather allows. The rescues return tired and better ready to face the week ahead.
“The difference we see in the dogs is remarkable,” says Abbi Crowe, founder of Miles & Mutts. “They’re whining and carrying on during the ride to the trail and totally calm on the way back. Even though we only do it once a week, getting out of the shelter environment helps with their mental well-being and socialization. Being out and around people, getting real-life experiences they don’t get in their kennel, it definitely makes them calmer when meeting potential adopters.”
Crowe has volunteered at animal shelters since childhood and has three rescue dogs — black Lab-mix Jackson, Beagle Kasey, and chocolate-Lab-mix Hannah — with her husband, Kevin. When she took up running a few years back, she began thinking about how to combine the two passions. It was during the Better Days Animal League Peace 4 Paws benefit run in fall of 2011 that Crowe learned the organization had actual physical shelters, as opposed to using foster homes and boarding facilities. She successfully pitched to Better Days the idea of a running group for its dogs.
The first run happened on April 14, 2012, with just Crowe and a young Treeing Walker Coonhound named Xena. The pair covered five miles of the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail that day.
“Xena and I headed over to the trail for a run this morning,” Crowe wrote on the Miles & Mutts website later. “The first mile was a little clumsy, but she got the hang of what we were there for very quickly. I’m pretty sure there was a huge smile on my face the entire time as well.”
The time was flying by, and pretty soon we’d already run two and a half miles,” she continued. “I wanted to take it easy with her since it was her first run, so we turned around at this point. Not bad for a sweet dog who has spent most of her life in a kennel. Of course, a temporary home at Better Days Animal League is certainly better than her original fate from the breeder/owner who was going to drown her and her sister when he could not get rid of them as puppies. Five miles complete.”
Crowe regularly documents the Miles & Mutts runs, showing off the many adoptable dogs in the running pack and recommending them as the best of running partners because they never stand you up and are always eager to see what’s beyond the bend. Just try to keep a dry eye while watching the group’s moving year-end video.
Since that first outing with Xena, the group has grown to 32 volunteers, who have run 36 dogs from the shelter a total of 1,096 miles. Thirteen of those dogs have found forever homes, thanks in part to the exercise and interaction the regular outings provide.
Crowe coordinates which dogs get to run each week, and she and her husband transport them from the shelter to the trail in the van they bought and outfitted for the task. Volunteers meet at the trail, a crushed limestone path that travels through woods and farmland.
When deciding which dogs to include, she considers several factors. “We mostly take the ones with high energy, the ones who are going a little kennel crazy,” she explains. “But we also have to consider how they are with people and other dogs. There are some we would love to take but can’t because they are too dog-aggressive.” Hound and Pit Bull mixes make up most of the running pack.
Crowe matches runners according to ability and never allows the dogs to get pushed passed their limit. The dogs have been known to push the humans, though.
“In some cases, the dog keeps the person wanting to go father than in the past,” Crowe says, pointing to Xena and Athena as two such dogs. “Several people came in running a little bit — three miles a couple times a week — but now they want to run with the hounds and go 10 miles.”
Bonds also develop between the humans and dogs, with volunteers requesting certain running partners. One such attachment actually turned into an adoption, when Ian and Willow Weir made Allie a permanent part of their running group and family.
Crowe hopes to double the number of volunteers, dogs, and miles this year. She also wants to start pulling dogs from the second Better Days shelter and add a weeknight run for those who have other obligations on Sundays. All of this will help with the ultimate goal of the group: finding forever homes for these awesome but often overlooked animals.
If you live in the Shippensburg area and want to join Miles & Mutts, visit the group’s website. You’ll also find a list Crowe compiled of other running groups for shelter dogs throughout the country. To get more information on the many adoptable pets available through Better Days, visit the shelter’s Petfinder page.
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