By Stephanie Blucker

Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy playing outdoors when the weather is nice. That’s why Seattle Animal Shelter volunteers and staff spend thousands of hours each year on programs that get animals out of the Shelter and into the sunshine.

Get Fit with Fido is one of those programs. It pairs able runners with dogs that could use a little extra exercise. Runners meet at the Shelter three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays – and head towards Myrtle Edwards Park. It’s a 4-to-5-mile loop that affords both humans and dogs the opportunity for water breaks and the occasional rest.

“No matter the weather conditions, the dogs love being along the waterfront area – lots of fresh air, great things to sniff, and seagulls to watch,” says Silvia Koros, a Fido runner.

“I absolutely love the program,” adds Brad Near, who’s logged 220 hours running with the dogs. “It’s so great to show up with my yellow jacket and the dogs associate me with, ‘Play time!’”

Of course the Shelter is careful to not overtax its animals when the weather is especially hot, so sometimes a Fido run turns into a gentle walk – or just a dip in one of the Shelter’s kiddie pools.

In addition to Get Fit with Fido, the Shelter uses off-site walks, walks around the Shelter property, and Shelter corrals to improve the physical health of its animals and reduce stress.

The stress reduction created by the Shelter’s outdoor exercise programs works for its human volunteers, too. “Getting [the dogs] out of the Shelter and helping them relax with a run is so much fun,” says Near.

Just as important, the runs also help Shelter volunteers assess how comfortable the dogs are in their environment – with other dogs, traffic, cyclists and strangers. That type of information aids the Shelter in providing even better care, which can lead to more or faster adoptions.

Get Fit with Fido runner and SASF Board Member Heidi Beck tells the story of how a dog she ran with came to be adopted: “[There’s] a couple that has walked in the park every Saturday during our runs. After a few months of passing each other, we started waving, then chatting. In year 3 or so, they gave a few pats to the dog I was running with. The next Saturday they came walking along with [the dog, now named Bella] in tow. From then on I got to see them and Bella each week – and to watch her blossom in their care.”

Keep pets safe during hot weather

The Shelter offers these tips to make sure your own pets don’t become overheated:

• If you leave animals indoors, open the windows, keep a fan running, provide plenty of water, and if possible, leave them in a cool location.

• Never leave dogs or cats unattended in a closed, locked car. Animals do not perspire like humans; they cool themselves by panting. Vinyl seats in vehicles get hot under animals’ feet and prevent them from perspiring through their paws.

• Avoid overexerting your pet in hot weather. Exercise is fine when done in moderation, but obesity, old age, underlying disease and previous bouts of heat stroke can predispose an animal to the condition.

Read more hot-weather tips at the Shelter’s website.

Photo credit: Silvia Koros