Reader, this writer isn’t exactly a fitness buff. Don’t get me wrong, I hold high the after-effects of exercise—the endorphin production, the undeniable health benefits, the ‘welcome to the gun show, admission if free’ biceps—but sometimes I feel like, if I did have access to a time machine, I’d primarily use it to fast forward past intense workouts at the gym so I could get all the benefits without the time/work required.

That said, one thing I really do enjoy is running outside with our dog, Owen (seen driving our car cross-country in an earlier post). And, honestly, he seems to really like it too, especially now that our primary form of exercise is running in the canyons of Los Angeles.

Which is part of the reason I was struck by the mission of Ruff Ruff Rescue Runners, an Arizona-based non-profit that pairs volunteers with shelter dogs to help get the animals active + out of the shelter in their bright orange ‘Adopt Me’ vests. It just seems like such a great way of getting needy animals both away from what can often be over-crowded, chaotic settings + in-front of potential adoptees.

We took some time to talk with one of the group’s co-founders, Vicky (left, below), about the idea behind the group and how it works.

So, what’s the inspiration behind Ruff Ruff Rescue Runners?

I read about a similar group in Texas calledThe Rufftail Runners on the Ruffwear blog and was immediately inspired. I’ve been a runner for most of my life and have two rescue pups of my own. Being able to combine both of these interests sounded perfect! I actually sent the article to (co-founder) Crysti on Facebook and jokingly said “You should start something like this.” We had several of our mutual friends comment that they would volunteer if we did and so we “ran” with it and it exploded! Crysti is also an avid runner and has the same passion for rescue dogs that I do, so she was the perfect person to partner with on this endeavor. 

That’s awesome. And how does it work on the back end exactly? Do you all partner with the majority of the shelters in the area or just a few or…?

We are currently partnering with seven different rescues throughout Arizona. Cities include Gilbert, Tempe, Phoenix, Prescott, and Flagstaff. Some we have contacted directly, others have contacted us. We plan to continue growing as long as there are interested volunteers, rescues, and, of course, dogs to run. 

That’s really great. Then how does it work form a volunteer perspective? If I’m looking for a four-legged running partner, I’d just contact you all and you’d take it from there?

Volunteers contact us and let us know the area in which they are interested in running. If we have a partnership established in that area, then we will invite them to join one of our group events or an orientation (depends on the rescue—they all operate a little differently). Volunteers are required to sign the rescues waiver, the Ruff Ruff Rescue Runner waive, and fill out an application. Once that is all done, they just need to keep an eye on Facebook for upcoming events. We try to have a group run at each of our partner rescues every Saturday. Due to the intense summer heat, we’ve had to take a break down in the Phoenix area but have been working on getting the cooler areas (Flagstaff and Prescott) going. We’ll be starting back up as soon as the morning temps start to cool down…hopefully in the next month or so. If we are contacted by someone in an area that we don’t currently have a partnership with, we add them to our volunteer database and contact them as soon as we have something going in their area. 

Very cool. One thing we’ve always worried about from the perspective of fostering animals is becoming too attached to them, not wanting to give them up and, say, ending up with 25 cats and 13 dogs. Do a lot of your volunteers end up adopting the dogs in the end?

We haven’t seen any of our volunteers walk off with any dogs…yet. BUT we’ve only been around since early May so we expect it will happen eventually. We had actually worried about that ourselves and, although we hate to see the dogs stuck in shelters and living in cages, we still walk away knowing we did something good for them, which, in my mind, makes it a little easier. Our ultimate goal would be to see them all adopted and living it up in happy homes. 

Do dogs actually enjoy running recreationally/for exercise? I run with our dog all the time and assume he loves it, but I’ve never actually read up on that kinda thing.

Are you kidding? They LOVE it! Well, actually, not all of them do. Some of the dogs prefer to walk and some prefer to just sit in the middle of the sidewalk, probably waiting to be carried back. We ask our volunteers to be sensitive to the needs of the dog. If the dog doesn’t want to run, then don’t make them run, but if they want to run then let them, but within reason. Many of the dogs we work with have no leash manners so we encourage our volunteers to stay in control of the dog and the run, working with them on leash skills and how to be a well mannered canine citizen. We also provide ‘Adopt Me’ vests so that the public knows that these dogs are available for adoption. 

Ah, good. Because I’ve definitely stepped up my runs with our dog now that we’re in LA and he seems to love it. And is it safe to assume you + Crysti run with your dogs?

Yes, I have two boxer rescues and I do run with them. Crysti has three dogs—two boxers and one English Pointer. Her dogs love hiking or running like crazies through the park. 

Any tips for beginners who maybe haven’t run with dogs before?

Expect the unexpected! Most of these dogs aren’t your well-mannered family dog who walk nicely on a leash. Instead, many have been abused, neglected, starved, injured, and spend 22 hrs of their day stuck in a small kennel in a chaotic and noisy environment. Some will be fearful or shy, some will not be very social, and some will want to eat anything that moves, but the more time we spend with them, the better they become. We see them change over time—they get better on a leash and become more social and less reactive to other animals and people. When people ask us what they should bring, we tell them their running shoes, water, and a whole lot of patience. They need it and they deserve it! 

Nice. Finally—who let the dogs out? Who? Who who who?

Ah, I love pictorial interview responses. Nicely done.

Below, pictures of Ruff Ruff dogs + volunteers in action. All photos (minus the dog who let the dogs out), courtesy of Ruff Ruff Rescue Runners.

If you live in any of the cities mentioned above, fill out the group’s online volunteer form and they’ll be in touch about volunteer orientations + events. Not in the area? Find out if a similar group exists in your area or start your own! Here’s a list of similar groups created by Pennsylvania-based Miles and Mutts. The New York Times blog also posted a piece a few years back that collects some helpful information on running with dogs from Runner’s World magazine, including a nice chart breaking down the best breeds to run with, how to train your dog for longer distance runs, and five reasons to run with your dog.