TAMPA, Fla. - The Steinbrenner High School Boys Cross-Country Team is making an early-morning stop at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay to pick up their running mates. The team takes shelter dogs to Al Lopez Park in Tampa for some exercise and a change of scenery.
"They get to get out in just fresh air and just to be able to run around and have a good time," said Steinbrenner senior Bryce Krueger.
It's part of a tradition for the team that started four years ago.
"A mom of one of the kids reached out to one of our volunteers and said do you think that the Humane Society would be interested in this, and it was something I had talked about for so long, about getting the dogs offsite," said Glen Hatchell, the behavior and enrichment manager at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
"Our three pillars of our cross-country team [are] gentleman, scholar, and athlete, and this really satisfies that gentleman area of caring for something that cannot care for itself," said Allison Szponar, the head coach of the team.
But beyond just taking these dogs for a good run, they're also giving them exposure to help them find homes.
"People are always wondering who we are when we're out here, so trying to promote it or keep the dog who we want to be adopted kind of out and around and just let people know what we do," continued Krueger.
"We'll post some of the dogs and everything on our social media so that it just tries to get the word out a little more. Some of these dogs, the guys really fall in love with and they don't want to take them back," said Szponar.
"It benefits the dogs by getting dogs with all of this activity and all this hyper energy and it gets them running that off a little bit and then when they go back to the shelter they're more adoptable," offered Hatchell.
One of the dogs that's become a team favorite is Lucas.
"Lucas is deaf. Sometimes people aren't willing to adopt a deaf dog but he is incredibly, incredibly sweet," said Szponar.
"We really hope he finds a good home," agreed Krueger.
They also want to help the Humane Society recruit volunteers.
"By doing this and in a public park, we hope that other people see this and if they're here taking a walk and they're doing this every morning, then they can think, ‘Hey, why can't I go a couple of minutes away to the Humane Society and take one of those dogs and make their day,’" Szponar said.
"Not only do the humans get that physical bit, they also get that mental relief and relaxation as well," added Hatchell.
It's putting the dogs on track for a brighter future.
"It makes me feel good that we're helping out the dogs and really making them happy," said Ronnie Aeschleman.
LINK: For information about adopting a dog or volunteering with the Humane Society, visit www.humanesocietytampa.org