By Joyell Nevins
Rescue Run Club connects joggers with shelter animals for exercise program
In “The Sound of Music,” the nanny Maria sings about “My Favorite Things” as a way to keep her and the children’s spirits up during a storm. North Park resident Kirsten Blakeman has taken her “favorite things” and combined them to found a local nonprofit with a national impact.
Rescue Run Club is both an apparel brand to benefit shelters such as the San Diego Humane Society and a meet-up group connecting joggers and shelter animals. Its mission is to promote dog adoptions and active lifestyles.
The idea was planted when Blakeman began to volunteer at the San Diego Humane Society three years ago. Due to a suggestion that turned into a responsibility, Blakeman became a “dog runner,” literally taking the most energetic shelter dogs out for a run. Dogs that were hyper behind bars took on a new presence when they got outside and moving.
“We would get about a quarter-mile away and they would turn into a normal dog,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman noticed that the dogs she was running with were becoming calmer in general, and more likely to be adopted overall. She saw the joy that bubbled over when the dogs recognized her and why she was there.
“You know without a doubt that this will be the best part of a shelter dog’s day,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman’s first running partner was her own dog Lexi. She got Lexi 10 years ago at a rescue in San Luis Obispo. Lexi is a mix of border collie and Rhodesian ridgeback.
Lexi also had a lot of energy, and running helped her release that, along with a way for Blakeman to wind down. Blakeman had been an athlete at University of California San Diego, but never had actively pursued running.
“It came out of a need to calm puppyness, and now I can’t imagine not running,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman admits that while she found Lexi, her husband Brandon is now higher on the happy list.
“He has definitely become the dog’s favorite,” Blakeman laughed. “He’s the one who gets to cuddle and play with her.”
Lexi may be more of a walker than a runner now, but the shelter dogs keep Blakeman going at a steady pace. Since she started, she has run more than 400 miles with more than 100 dogs. Blakeman discovered that it’s not just the running she enjoys; it’s who she’s running with.
“Dogs are a non-judgmental and joyful partner,” Blakeman said. “The dogs are just happy to be out, they don’t care how or with whom.”
So, about a year ago, Blakeman wanted to share that experience and give back to the rescues that had brought her joy. Blakeman, who works as a registered architect with Studio E Architects in Bankers Hill, said she has always loved design and drawing.
So she designed several running tanks and T-shirts with sayings such as “Leash up and Go!” “Run & Rescue” and “Run For Rescues.” Kirsten joked that Brandon is her best model, since he wears many of the designs around town.
The apparel is sold online and at booths during canine and community events such as “Pitties in the Park.” Twenty percent of the proceeds benefit groups and shelters that work with rescue dogs in Southern California.
Blakeman also organizes meet-ups to bring together people who love running and people who love dogs — whether that’s people running with their own dogs or running with the shelter canines.
“Dogs always seem to bring people together,” Blakeman said.
This month, the meet-up happened in Balboa Park in conjunction with a 3030 Challenge. The Rescue Run Club challenged its members and friends to walk or run 30 miles in 30 days with a dog, whether it’s their own, a friend or neighbor’s, or a shelter dog. So far, they’ve had 85 people sign up across 15 states.