RuffTail Runners exercises dogs to get them adopted


Pearce Murphy

Austin Pets Alive! voulunteer Sara Bratcher takes Sharpie out for a run early Wednesday morning. 

Katie Paschall

Along the hub of outdoor activity in Austin, where flat trails meander along Lady Bird Lake, you may find devoted members of a local program called RuffTail Runners, formerly named Jog-A-Dog, an organization dedicated to taking shelter dogs from Austin Pets Alive! out of their concrete kennels and into a sun-filled, fresh-air environment. 

Austin Pets Alive!, an animal shelter seconds away from the trails of Lady Bird Lake promotes and provides the resources, education and programs needed to eliminate the killing of companion animals. In fact, the shelter has led Austin to be the largest no-kill city in the nation. 

RuffTail Runners was founded in 2009 when Rob Hill, head coach for Team Spiridon, an organization that encourages fitness while raising awareness for animals in Austin, started a running group. 

“My idea at first was just to help out by meeting the immediate need,” Hill said. “At its heart, it’s still just about getting a dog out of its kennel and letting it be a dog for a while. But now, we want to get every dog out of their kennel, in every shelter, everywhere.”

Hill’s love for dogs and experience in dog training has made the program known around Austin. A special moment for the program was when Andre, its tennis-ball-loving, toy-decimating mascot, was adopted after eight months in the shelter. 

Sara Bratcher, a social work sophomore, volunteers to take dogs to Lady Bird Lake four times a week. Bratcher said the term RuffTail “Runners” worried her at first because she had never enjoyed running. 

“I started running through the program,” Bratcher said. “I originally was not a runner at all, in fact, I hated running. But I loved dogs so I decided to sign up for the training. Slowly but surely I started to love it. It becomes easier when you see how happy it makes the pups.” 

Lindsay Marsh, the co-executive director, loves seeing the volunteers and the dogs when they come back from a run. Marsh said that dogs ultimately become more adoptable, which helps maintain a No-Kill society. 

“The shelter is stressful. The staff and volunteers do everything they can to ease dogs, but it’s still a concrete kennel with other dogs barking at you,” Marsh said. “RuffTail Runners helps dogs de-stress, keep them healthy and get them adopted.” 

Mike Kaviani, dog behavior program manager, said that RuffTail Runners prepares dogs for success in future homes by exposing them to real-life situations like running around Town Lake, seeing crowds of people and cars.  

Hill said Austin Pets Alive! doesn’t always get the easy dogs, but through hard work, creativity and love, the quality of life for dogs changes. 

“The road doesn’t seem to have an end, which is fine with me,” Hill said. “I’ve always loved animals and rescued strays. I once took in a pup that was found on the street at two-weeks-old. I love Neko so much, and it kills me to know there are others like her that may not have made it. Now that I’m in, there’s no getting out.”

Printed on Thursday, April 11, 2013 as Runners end dog days for pet shelter pooches