Running with the Pack

I want to tell you a story about how I lost my son, lost my mind and ultimately found a pack of dogs. It amazes me the path that our lives can take; the chain of events that need to happen in order for you to find your life purpose.

Ten years ago my son Jesse was shot and killed by his friend. The police said “accident” but the facts behind the scenes said something different.
Jealousy is truly a monster.

But that’s not what this story is really about.

The year following my son’s death was a year of illness, both emotional and physical. I lost 40 lbs very quickly…then gained 60. I was sick and I was stressed.

After 5 years of this mess, I decided to take control of my life. I believed the easiest way to start was to take control of my body. I knew that I needed to be healthier, so weight loss was first on my agenda. I knew that cardio exercise was the go-to for weight loss so I started running.

What I didn’t expect to discover was that running turned out to be much more than merely cardio. It was a mental reboot. It was a stress reliever. I could have a craptastic day and find that after a run, all was forgiven.

And it was therapeutic. I may have been having an emotionally hard day- on the edge of tears continuously and crying over toilet paper commercials. But then a run could snap me right out of it. Focusing on my body rather than on what was going on in my head.

It was cathartic. Sometimes we have to postpone our grief. We can’t really let the tears flow while dealing with customers or sitting down to dinner with friends, but this can become an unhealthy habit. There were times when running brought the tears instead of quelling them. By letting my guard down, my mind was free to express itself.

So not only was running part of my lifestyle change, it was part of my healing.

Create something good out of tragedy.

We have all heard it. And we all hope that we have the capacity.

I had suffered one of the most feared tragedies a parent can suffer.

Was I out protesting at gun control rallies? Nope.

Was I deeply embedded in grief groups and helping other families heal? Nope.

Was I trying to rally the troops and raise awareness for mental health issues? Again NOPE.

What was I doing? I was RUNNING. And I was running for MILES and MILES.

I’d signed up for a half marathon…that’s 13.1 miles for all you non-runner types.

Training soon became monotonous.

And then. AND THEN! A friend had brought his dog on one of our training runs.Those 10 miles flew by! It was amazing how this canine added entertainment to our run. I instantly fell in love with dog running!

We all wish that we could get paid to do something we love. Could I get paid to run? I could become a dog RUNNER! All those high energy dogs who need more than a dog walker?

Sign me up!

One small problem.

While I have had a couple dogs in my life, I had no experience with dog handling.

What better way to gain that experience than to volunteer at a dog rescue? So I did.

The rescue ok’d my request to run the dogs instead of walking them, so off I went!

I ran big dogs and small dogs. Slow dogs and fast dogs.

I was in the best running shape EVER.

Then slowly but surely something happened. My dog running became less about me – and my dog running business – and more about them. I was spending more of my time running the rescue dogs than I was running my client dogs. Sometimes I was running 8 miles a day with rescue dogs and there were still dogs left that needed running.

I needed help.

I reached out to a few local running groups, asking if a volunteer program existed that would allow runners to “grab and go” with a dog, would there be any interest.

Holy smokes was there interest! I was overwhelmed by the response!

So, RunningDog was born!

RunningDog is now a well established program at One of a Kind Pet Rescue in Akron Ohio. This allows runners to volunteer their time to take the rescue dogs out on runs. To date I have put almost 200 runners through orientation. We have about 600 followers in our Facebook group RunningDog Runners.

But most importantly, we help keep the dogs mentally and emotionally stable while they are in the kennel environment. We help keep them exercised and this makes them more adoptable. A calm dog is more easily trained and a dog that knows “sit” has a better chance to be adopted. A dog that isn’t jumping around and barking at potential adopters has a better chance too.

And just as running can be cleansing for humans, it can have the same effect for a dog that has spent weeks, months, years in a loud chaotic kennel. We see the transformation every time we take a dog out.

A stressed dog becomes relaxed.

A timid dog becomes curious.

A hyper dog becomes calm.

We have some solid success stories. Stories of dogs that may have been unadoptable but running them changed that.

Sometimes the dogs we take out require more help than we can give, but even then our success can be measured in moments of running bliss.

This has enriched our runners lives as well. Runners who register for races may look for a race that contributes to their favorite charity. The beauty of RunningDog is that runners are contributing the most priceless thing, their time. They are actively involved in that moment with a cause that they believe in.

And hopefully I’ve created something that gives our runners some joy.

Some say that running is a selfish sport. Some say that it’s a useless skill that has no real meaning in life. But this is a very real way that a runner can use that conditioning…use it toward helping our most helpless canines.

So, I found my cause.

I may not be at gun control rallies or on the front lines of mental illness awareness, but I did turn tragedy into something worthwhile.

I am using my form of healing to help keep homeless dogs happy.

And hopefully inspiring you.

~B Dillon~