Marie Gryszowka About Creating a Running Program for Shelter Dogs

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I spend my days working as a volunteer coordinator at a Massachusetts animal shelter. Almost every day after work I change out of work scrubs and into my running shoes. I let out the stress of the day with every foot strike on the trail. My story with running began in school when I joined the local high school cross country team. Since then I have run over 150 races. At 31 years old I have over sixteen years of running experience under my belt. Over the last few years I’ve complete numerous endurance runs ranging from 10 miles to 30. In 2016 I am aiming to complete my first 50 and 100 miler.

I worked in animal welfare for almost 6 years before an idea was brought to me by a volunteer sometime in the fall of 2014. My volunteer suggested the idea of combining my love of running and the animal shelter. We both brainstormed for a few weeks before the light bulb clicked on and Tailblazers was born. Tailblazers is a volunteer program which pairs the local running community with the high energy dogs at the shelter.

After months of planning running routes, writing safety protocols, and getting permission from the shelter’s insurance agency we finally took off running…literally! The first informal meeting held in January of 2015 gathered about 35 eager runners, all with different speeds and abilities. Our meeting lasted about 2 hours. The program outline was discussed, possible dog candidates were talked about, and we ended with a tour of our facility. It took the next month to train every runner; each dog and human pair set out for their first 3 mile jog with me in tow. Each new runner had to learn to control not only their pace but the dog they were lucky enough to run with. The dogs took to the new program instantly. Every dog came back with a huge smile and tired legs; most runners returned with the same joyous look.

It has been an exhausting year with all the extra miles logged on my own two feet but the shelter is finally seeing a decrease in stress and length of stay in the dogs we care for. I hope that the word gets out about Tailblazers and other area shelters adopt the program. Dogs are meant to run and burn off steam. When they can’t because of their situation within shelter walls it means cage stress, depression, and sometimes death. Shelters are not the ideal place for any animal big or small. This program is geared to keep the high energy dogs calm and exercised leading to better cage presentation and meets with potential adopters, ideally raising adoption numbers every year of the program.

The Tailblazers dog running program is one of many ways I work to help out my 4 legged runner friends. I hope they find it as rewarding as I do.

If you want to learn more about Marie, follow her on Instagram @mariesavespitbulls.

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