Running with the big dogs & walking with the little dogs, too

Dinah Chao loves running. She also loves dogs, which is why she has four of them and takes them, one at a time, on her outings.

Then, she had a thought.

“I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of them I could be running with at the humane society,” Chao said.

She was right.

So she started a Sunday morning program at the Kauai Humane Society to match runners with dogs that would love some exercise.

“Most of these dogs are runners,” she said. “That’s what they like to do. That’s what I like to do. That’s why I became a volunteer. I wanted to do something to help their quality of life.”

“Ultimately, it’s for these guys, for their lives to be better,” Chao added.

But wait, before you declare you’re not a runner and can’t help, know that walkers are welcome, especially for those canines that would rather stroll and sniff and roll on their backs.

Two such people, Kim Foster and son Stephen Foster, were at KHS Sunday morning.

“I’m not really a runner,” Kim Foster said. “I’m more of a walker.”

She and Stephen did a lot of walking in a few hours. They made eight trips around a .63 perimeter course at KHS, each time taking a different dog out.

They figure they covered close to five miles walking smaller dogs like Ralphie, a terrier mix, Koko, a Pomerian mix, and Kolohe Boy, a Shih Tzu mix, as well as mid-sized hound mixes like Harrison and Siana.

It’s all about creating positive energy and atmosphere for homeless dogs.

“I like helping the animals and giving them exercise,” Stephen Foster said.

Five volunteers showed up Sunday and walked or ran 25 dogs, some starting at 9 a.m., others finishing at 1:30 p.m. Chao and company mark on a white board which dogs were exercised so KHS staff can know which dogs might need more attention that next day.

The goal, Chao said, is to not only exercise dogs, but socialize them, help them learn to relax around people and ultimately, get them homes.

Some of the dogs have been abused and flinch when petted. Others are anxious as they exercise, and when stopped for a break, cower with their tails between their legs, in fear of being hit.

But getting them out of their kennels, spending time with them, petting and praising them, will hopefully lead to their adoption. Because despite the best efforts of staff and volunteers, shelter dogs spend most of their days in kennels, and kennel life can be stressful. They can pick up behaviors such as barking aggressively or hiding in a corner, which can discourage potential adopters.

Most of the dogs waiting for homes at KHS are sweet, well-behaved and love being with people, said Mimi Ditusa, who jogged or walked with several canines for nearly three hours Sunday morning.

“It’s exercise for us, it’s exercise for the dogs,” she said. “We love dogs. We get to socialize them, give them a little time out.”

Ditusa has found some of the dogs are timid and shy at first, but as they trek around the KHS property, they relax and quickly become playful.

One such dog was Mushi, a large hound mix who howled loudly in his kennel, but behaved like a gentleman and loped along easily when outside. Then there was Kida, a terrier/American pit bull mix with big, sweet eyes that watched his handler attentively, always wanting to please. And Jane, a pointer/whippet that was simply delighted to be outside running, sniffing and exploring.

“They have all kinds of different personalities,” Ditusa said.

Volunteers don’t just run the dogs and return them to their kennel. There’s a nice shady spot under a large tree where Chao and Ditusa like to let the dogs rest. That’s also where they take pictures of the animals to post on Facebook — again, an effort to promote them and increase their chances of finding a home.

“They need that little bit of nurturing,” Ditusa said. “Every single one of these dogs would make a great pet for someone.”

Chao started the Sunday morning program at KHS in mid-January. While she would love to see more runners and walkers show up that day, she pointed out that anyone who completes the volunteer orientation and hands-on training, which takes 3-4 hours, and pays $10 for a volunteer T-shirt, can stop by during the shelter’s open hours and take dogs for a walk.

“What we would love to see are two to four people a day coming in to do this so the dogs can get a significant amount of exercise,” Chao said. “It’s more important we get it spread out over the week.”

Ditusa, a dog owner and friend of Chao’s, didn’t immediately embrace the idea of volunteering at KHS. But since trying it, she’s now there up to three days a week.

“Once you do this, you’ll be so grateful,” she said. “It’s nice to give to the dogs. They’re getting something out of it. I’m getting something out of it.”

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