high school kids running with dogs
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
September 6, 2019 ·  4 min read

High-School Cross-Country Team Brings Lonely Shelter Dogs Along On Their Morning Run

“A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad,” – Robert Wagner.

To truly train a child in the way they should go is to teach them love, kindness, empathy, and compassion. It’s been an age-long concept for schools across the world to devise means of teaching children the beauty of generosity, such as food drives for the less-privileged and to donate their gently used items like clothes to those in need. Charity dances are occasionally organized to raise funds for altruistic acts such as funding a children’s hospital or an old persons home. It’s as important as the educational curricula to teach kids virtues that would shape them into model citizens and compassionate humans.

To love a dog is to know the purest form of loyalty. The cross-country team at St. Joseph’s High School Orcutt, California runs a special program that allows them to take lonely, abandoned dogs awaiting adoption on one run per season [1]. Each member of the team is paired with a dog from the shelter, and while they train for their upcoming races, the dogs can come along on one session to breathe in the fresh air, get dew on their faces, stretch out, and enjoy the scenery.

Happy hearts and happy faces

In 2016, the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter contacted the school’s Athletics Team to propose a partnership with the students. The shelter doesn’t even have enough staff to exercise the dogs. Since the school and the shelter are located closely in the same area, the idea didn’t seem like it would hurt anyone at all. And it didn’t! In fact, the first run was such a huge success that they’ve brought back the program every year.

In a video posted by the Athletics Team on Facebook, the students could be seen chattering away happily while running alongside their doggy pals, one dog on a leash to each student. They were having so much fun, and each kid was eager to take great care of his charge. One kid could be seen carrying his exhausted dog in his arms while walking the distance. Such pure affection. 

“The kids loved it and the dogs were so excited. I am not sure who was more excited and having the most fun … the dogs or the kids,” team coach Luis Escobar wrote online after the first [2]. “Either way, it was a great time and I am sure we will do it again sometime soon.” 

The team couldn’t allow more than one run a year because the dogs would slow the training down. However, the dogs still have a memorable time on their one lucky day, and the program has been renewed every year since 2016, KTVU reports [3]. While waiting for the perfect families to come for them, these dogs deserve a happy time out in the sun to get some wind on their faces.

A harsh reality for millions of companion animals

Every year, approximately 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats are taken into shelters because they are either lost or there are no homes to adopt them [4]. An average of 2.7 million dogs and cats are killed each year because there is not enough space to accommodate them in the shelters. 

It’s a sad reality for man’s best friend in a cold, hard world. Some dogs get into the shelter and would never see the light of day again. What better way to give them a treat than to let them out into the open, to run wild and free with loving kids? 

Dogs are beneficial to the mental and emotional development of children. Spending time with a friendly, loyal dog can boost a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence while bringing love and happiness into their lives.

“Pets give us love, joy, laughter, camaraderie. Teenagers brought up in a home with animals experience the empathy, devotion, and character formation that come from bringing an animal into the fabric of the family,” says child psychologist Dr. Aubrey Fine to Your Teen Mag [5].

It’ll be a wonderful idea for schools around the world to establish such programs. It’s a great way to breed companionship and help lonely animals.

  1. Watch: High School Cross-Country Team Takes Shelter Dogs on Training Run https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a20817598/watch-high-school-cross-country-team-takes-shelter-dogs-on-training-run/
  2. Luis Escobar. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Luisescobar150/videos/10154319729111635/. Retrieved 04-09-19
  3. Lisa Fernandez. California cross country high school team trains with shelter dogs. KTVU. https://www.ktvu.com/news/california-cross-country-team-trains-with-shelter-dogs. Retrieved 04-09-19
  4. Admin. 11 FACTS ABOUT ANIMAL HOMELESSNESS. Do Something. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-animal-homelessness. Retrieved 04-09-19
  5. Admin. Teens And Pets: The Real Benefits of Having a Pet. Your Teen Mag. https://yourteenmag.com/family-life/communication/your-teen-pet-benefits. Retrieved 04-09-19