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Furry friends find running mates

Animal shelter's Jog a Dog program credited with increasing adoptions

Weekend runs are the 2-year-old's favorite. When the door opens in the morning, he all but gallops into the pre-dawn mist, relishing the cool breeze on his face.

At least, that's what volunteers believe Tiki -- a Dobermann American Staffy mix -- feels when they take him running with other dogs from the East Bay SPCA shelter in Dublin.

Tiki wouldn't have gotten much of a chance to go on runs if it weren't for Jog a Dog, a volunteer-run program at the local East Bay SPCA branch. Several times a week, Jog a Dog volunteers take some of the shelter's dogs on long runs through a Dublin park to help them burn off energy, relax and socialize with other dogs.

The program, in its third year, has helped dogs get adopted because the animals are happier, calmer, more relaxed and better prepared to interact with kids during adoption events when they've gone for a run earlier in the day, said Amy Fields, lead volunteer for Jog a Dog.

"It's really brought our adoptability levels to a new high," East Bay SPCA behavior and training coordinator Laurel Stark said.

Other area shelters also recruit volunteers to take dogs on walks or runs. Pleasanton's Valley Humane Society has groups of dog walkers who take dogs out three to four times a day, executive director Melanie Sadek said.

She said some volunteers take the more energetic dogs on brisk runs, while others might take slower dogs on a leisurely stroll. Either way, the exercise makes a difference for the dogs.

"Tired dogs are good dogs," she said. "Whether they are in their forever home or waiting to find their new family, dogs that have been exercised are calmer and less excitable. Having the dogs exercised allows potential adopters to see a more relaxed dog and a better example of how the dog might be once in their home."

Sadek said it's an added bonus that volunteer-led walks and runs help dogs get used to being on a leash, going to the bathroom outside and going on walks with other dogs.

The East Bay SPCA takes in about 3,000 animals a year and its Oakland and Dublin locations act as adoption centers and animal-training facilities. Its Oakland location also provides a veterinary clinic.

Fields started the program at the Dublin location after she learned about how running helped dogs relax and since she loved running and volunteering at the animal shelter, it seemed like a perfect match.

Fields, a Foothill High alumna who now lives in San Ramon, said about 10 people do three shifts of dog-jogs throughout the week. Typically, a group will go running each Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday for about a mile and a half through nearby parks.

Right now, the program is only at the East Bay SPCA's Dublin location, but Fields said she hopes to bring it to the Oakland location if enough volunteers come forward.

She said dogs in the program typically stay at the shelter for just two weeks before they get adopted.

Dogs, especially the larger ones, are sometimes so excited to see new people after being inside for a while that they'll jump or run around the room when potential adopters visit. But if they've had a run in the morning, Fields said, the dogs will be much more mellow. They'll be still happy to see people, but they'll be more likely to walk up to visitors and let them pet them.

Brandon Carmo, a Pleasanton native who now lives in Danville, said running helps calm the dogs so potential adopters see how the dogs will be on a regular day.

On a cool, cloudy morning last year, Carmo held Tiki on a leash. Tiki looked at Carmo expectantly, getting treats when he performed commands, like sitting and waiting.

Once Carmo opened the door, Tiki all but bounded through, pulling excitedly on his leash. Two other volunteers joined them with dogs, and the canines got in their requisite sniffs before starting out on their jog.

Running the dogs is also a great way to get them used to socializing with other dogs, Carmo said. Not all dogs are used to going on runs, so they have to be trained to cooperate with the other dogs while running down the sidewalks.

He pays attention to Tiki's movements while they run. He can tell if Tiki is uncertain or uncomfortable while running or whether he is feeling confident.

Carmo started volunteering with East Bay SPCA a few years ago, working with cats at the Dublin shelter. Fields approached him when she started the Jog a Dog program since she knew he was an avid runner.

Running has always been a fun way for him to get exercise and to feel better, he said. A runner since college, it's been a go-to strategy when he needs to clear his mind.

He said the dogs he runs with clearly feel the same.

And as for Tiki, he was adopted in October and met his forever family just after a run, Fields said.

"They'll become more their true selves when they get that initial energy burst out in the morning," Carmo said.

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