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Get Ready to Race for the Paws

The idea for the SF Race for the Paws, a fundraiser for Family Dog Rescue, was formed over a beer on a Saturday afternoon. My husband, Kevin, and I had just finished the dog run, a group that meets every weekend morning at 9 a.m. to run some of Family Dog Rescue’s more energetic shelter residents. We walked our foster dog, Chanel, over to a nearby dog-friendly brewery to rehydrate and tried to figure out how we could do more for the shelter.

“If we organized a race, do you think people would come?” I asked Kevin. Specifically, I wondered whether people would pay an entry fee. We had never put on a race before, but we had organized a bunch of trail runs with the SF Trail Runners and started the Olympic Running Group at Family Dog Rescue—two extremely popular groups that started with the same uncertainty. We figured we had very little to lose. Our doubts turned into enthusiasm, and our idea was immediately supported by the rescue’s founder, Angela Padilla, who, in my experience, has never said no to trying something new that could benefit the dogs.

Family Dog Rescue is a special organization. This isn’t just because I rescued my dog soul mate—a senior shepherd—from there a few years ago, knowing full well he would not have made it out alive from most shelters given his advanced age, lack of socialization, and his reactivity to anyone in uniform. It’s also because it does such great work for so many deserving pups—over 3,000 since 2010. The rescue does not discriminate, taking in and finding homes for blind and deaf dogs, tripods, abused and neglected dogs, sodomized dogs, broken, and bald dogs. It even has an international street dog program. But my favorite thing about this rescue is that I’ve seen imperfect dogs adopted by families with maybe not a perfect situation become a perfect family. I was one of those people. I was rejected by other shelters, because I lived in the city and did not have a backyard. Family Dog Rescue got to know me and realized I had a very active lifestyle and would provide my dog with as much exercise and fresh air as he could handle.

I’ll skip the tedious race-planning details, the mini-crisis when we had trouble finding insurance, and the hours spent figuring out portable potty options. But thanks to an incredible subcommittee and friends willing to volunteer, the first SF Run for the Paws came together as a 5-kilometer race, 1-mile fun run, free beer (three different breweries offered to donate), and adoption event—complete with a puppy-kissing booth—last February.

At 5 a.m. race day, we showed up at Crissy Field to unusually clear and warm weather. The Family Dog Rescue pups arrived as excited as I was. That’s when I thought the fundraising effort might actually work. Then the runners started arriving. Because people kicked in more than the required entry fee, we had exceeded our goal. So we focused on just making the event a great experience.

The pre-race stretch started at 8 a.m., and I took a minute to look out at a sea of people: 264 souls stretching their arms up to the sky framed by the Golden Gate Bridge; 264 people who had donated money and woken up early to run or walk for homeless pups. We knew people cared—we just didn’t know how much.

The race was a blur, dogs going every which way. Finally, the last person had crossed the finish line. But very few participants left, instead milling about drinking beer, sitting on the grass, and getting in some final dog kisses. We raised $12,000.

This year, we have a $25,000 goal for the encore presentation on Feb. 25 at Crissy Field. The 5K (no dogs permitted) is $35, and the 1-mile fun run is $25, though all are welcome to contribute more. Entry gets you pre-race coffee and post-race refreshments, 5K runner participant rewards, two free beers for each runner over 21, and all the puppy kisses you can handle. We plan to have more dogs, more beer, and, hopefully, more runners. Ideally, Mother Nature will give us another gorgeous day, and maybe the dogs will find forever homes.

Kierstan Streber is the organizer of the SF Race for the Paws. Find out more about the event at SFRaceForthePaws.com or WeAreFamilyDog.com.

Main article photo by: Photo courtesy of SF Race for the Paws