Pets & Animals

High school cross country team takes a joyous run with local shelter dogs

A high school cross country team found an easy way to spice up an otherwise mundane practice by inviting some special guests who always make everything better.

Puppies!

About 15 members of the St. Joseph High School cross country team in Santa Maria, California, took a joyous run on Aug. 4 with some dogs from the local Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter.

A video of the students running with the dogs posted on Facebook by head coach Luis Escobar struck a chord thanks to the sheer joy on the runners' faces as they trotted along with the animals.

"I had mentioned it a few days prior and their initial reaction was lukewarm,'' Escobar told TODAY. "I think they thought that it was kind of lame, and it turned out that it was super cool.

"The kids went nuts and the dogs went nuts. It was just an incredible match."

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The 8 a.m. run was on the final day of the team's summer program. The meetup was put together by Escobar's running buddies, Stacy Silva and Jeff Clinton, who work at the shelter.

"It's such a joyful clip to see these dogs out of their kennels and just being dogs,'' Dori Villalon, operations manager for Santa Barbara County Animal Services, told TODAY. "It just makes people smile."

The video also has raised awareness about dogs awaiting adoption at the shelter.

Courtesy of Stacy Menusa
St. Joseph High School junior Josh Menusa is shown here with his sister, Jasmine, and mother, Stacy, along with the family's dogs, Sheldon (left) and Fred (right), the latter of whom they adopted after Josh bonded with Fred during his cross country practice.

"At the end of the day, that's the thing is to create awareness of the shelter animals that are there,'' Escobar said. "If this brings attention to that, that's fantastic."

One of the dogs in the video has already been adopted.

At the end of the clip, St. Joseph's junior Josh Menusa can be seen holding a dog named Fred, whom his family later brought home.

"When he came home, he was like, 'Oh my gosh, you should've seen the dog, he was so cute,''' Josh's mother, Stacy Menusa, told TODAY. "Fred and Josh had already developed this little rapport.

"As soon as we came back from vacation and went to the shelter, Fred saw Josh, and he was crying, then I was crying because the dog was crying, so I was like, 'I guess he's coming home with us.'"

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Escobar, who is heading into his sixth season as head coach this fall, is looking to make running with the dogs an occasional event.

He also has gotten emails from other coaches and runners across the country asking how they can do something similar with local shelters.

"They had so had so much fun going out there just for the hour that they spent with the dogs,'' Stacy Menusa said. "They all got to bond with these dogs, and if this helps people want to adopt a dog, that's a great message to get out there."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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