Every other weekend, this group of runners meets on a Sunday morning for a romp on a trail through a prairie meadow.
For the two-legged participants — all dog lovers — it’s a run with man’s best friend.
For their four-legged friends, it’s an opportunity for some exercise, a change of scenery and a chance to get to know some new humans.
It’s a pairing of runners from Second Wind Running Club with dogs from the Champaign County Humane Society that began last fall.
The program now has about 18 runners who take the dogs out. They meet every other Sunday morning, before the humane society opens to the public. Usually five to eight runners are available each time, and humane society staff members select five dogs to go for a run.
The runners take the dogs on a 1-mile loop through a meadow and trees near the facility. They run up to 2 miles with the dogs.
The connection between Second Wind and the humane society began several years ago, when Second Wind members volunteered to take dogs to Meadowbrook Park to run on Saturday mornings. The idea was to give the dogs some exercise, help them socialize with people and increase awareness of the dogs available for adoption.
That program ended some time ago, and when Anderson talked with humane society staff about starting a new running program with the dogs, “we talked about how difficult it was before when we took them to Meadowbrook Park,” she said. “Runners had to transport them in their cars. That’s a lot of liability on (the humane society’s) part, having us take their animals.”
It was decided the dogs would still get the benefits of exercise and socialization with new people by running near the shelter.
“It gets the dogs out of their kennels, which is enriching for them. It exercises the dogs,” said Danielle Bender, an animal behavior specialist and humane society volunteer coordinator. “We pick dogs with higher energy levels. Physical and mental exercise is really important to these dogs.
“They could potentially become adopted from it, whether it’s someone seeing the dog on the run or something to tell potential adopters.”
The dogs that run must have had rabies vaccinations and they must not have any health issues, such as illnesses, injuries or recent surgeries.
The runners must be members of Second Wind, and they must complete volunteer training with the humane society. The training teaches them how to leash the dogs, take them in and out of the kennel, handle various situations that might arise and what to watch for regarding possible injuries or health problems.
Lynn Troost of Urbana (a longtime runner and Second Wind member) has been a dog owner for much of her life, so when she heard about the Second Wind program, she volunteered. She doesn’t have a dog of her own now, but “I get my dog fix by running with the dogs,” she said.
“There are some really nice dogs that you see eventually get adopted to homes. And getting together with other Second Wind people, it’s fun.”
She said one of the runners recently saw a dog that he had run with, running with its new owner.
The volunteers are dog owners or wannabe dog owners, Anderson said.
“Some people can’t have a dog, but this way, they have a dog for an hour every other week,” she said. “People are there just because they love dogs.
“Every time you go, you make a connection with this dog. You fall in love with them, and they return it. It’s very rewarding on that personal level.”
Photo: Second Wind Running Club member Lynn Troost of Urbana runs with Bailey near the Champaign County Humane Society facility in Urbana.