Cross-Country Team Runs With Shelter Dogs — and the Idea Catches Fire

cross country team running with dogs (CROP for social).

After a grueling summer of intense workouts, the St. Joseph High School cross-country team in Santa Maria, California, teamed up with some cooped-up rescue dogs at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter.

“We have these kids who are finishing their summer workout program and we have all these dogs. So we got them together,” team coach Luis Escobar told Runner’s World. He surprised about a dozen of his runners with the four-legged training partners during an easy 1.5-mile run close to the shelter.

“When the dogs realized they were going outside, they went crazy,” he said.

Escobar, who is also a professional photographer, shot a short video of the run, which quickly went viral. Some dogs ran gleefully, tongues lolling. One considered it more of a stroll. And Fred? Well, Fred gave up and insisted his training partner carry him the rest of the way. (It wasn't a bad plan on Fred's part; runner Josh Menusa and his family ended up adopting the terrier mix.)

A good idea that resonates with people across the country

cross country team running with dogs
Runners from St. Joseph High School cross-country team partner up with shelter dogs for an easy run.

The video caught the attention of other cross-country teams and shelters around the country who are now doing the same thing, Escobar told animal-loving talk show host Rachel Ray, when he appeared on her show to discuss the program.

“This was just a small, tiny, organic, nice gesture of kindness and it's resonated with people all across the country,” he said.

PBS also noticed, and the two- and four-legged runners will be featured on an episode of "Shelter Me," a film series that covers the good things happening at shelters across the country. The episode — "Shelter Me: Community Matters" — is narrated by Dr. Jane Goodall and runs through spring and summer 2017.

Escobar attended a screening for the episode and was amazed at how big the short run idea had become.

"None of this was ever intended," Escobar told the Santa Maria Times. "We were just going to run with the dogs, and it exploded into this incredible opportunity. Anybody can do it. It doesn't have to a be big thing; it can just be walking a dog."

cross country runner resting with shelter dog
Runner Jacob takes a break with his partner, Princess.