We can all benefit from a little fresh air and exercise — and the same goes for dogs. That’s why organizations across the U.S. are pairing runners with shelter pups to keep them active and help make them more adoptable.


Programs like Monster Milers in Philadelphia, which has more than 330 active volunteers, get six to 12 dogs out of shelters for mile-long runs on a daily basis. It may seem like a small effort, but it’s a big deal to the dogs.


“The immediate benefits are obvious,” says Monster Milers CEO Carrie Maria. “The dogs are just happier. Happier dogs are easier to find homes for. Rather than pacing in their crates, or whining, most of the dogs are calm and relaxed after a run. It helps them get through a scary time in their lives and it allows them to meet lots of new friends — our volunteer Milers. “


Volunteer opportunities like Monster Milers can be found from coast to coast, from the Seattle Animal Shelter’s Get Fit with Fido program to the Washington, D.C., Human Society’s People & Animal Cardio Klub.


Some of the programs even come with additional perks for participants. Volunteers with Team Spiridon’s Jog-A-Dog program in Austin, Texas, get discounts at a local running store, and each time they run with a shelter pup, they earn stamps that can be redeemed for gift certificates.


But for many of these organizations, getting shelter dogs out of their crates and giving them one-on-one time with runners is just a small part of their overall mission. For example, in addition to the daily runs, Monster Milers holds annual 5K races to support animal rescues and educates the public about the more than 30,000 animals in Philadelphia’s shelter system.


“One of our main goals is to educate the wider community about adoption. We set up at local races to introduce runners to the dogs in our program. We just want to keep adoption at the forefront of the running community's minds,” says Maria.


Most of the shelters require that volunteers attend a training session before they start running with the dogs. Orientation typically covers shelter regulations, safety procedures and tips for interacting with shelter animals. But participants say the most important part of running with shelter pups is developing a connection with the dogs — even if it’s just for the day.


“It’s really cool to see the runners and dogs when they get back — even if it’s the first time the runner’s been out with the dog, you see a visible bond,” says Team Spiridon member Ron Hill. “The dog is looking up at them and they’re all happy, and they’re laying at their feet.”


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Inset photo: Erin M. Fay/Monster Milers