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RuffTail Runners want Austin Pets Alive! to stay on Lamar Beach

Pam LeBlanc

Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 12, 2014

And today, a guest post from Rob Hill, who coaches Team Spiridon running group and helped create the RuffTail Runners program that allows the public to borrow pets from the Austin Pets Alive! animal shelter and take them for walks or runs around Lady Bird Lake…

Boardwalk, check. Butler Park, check. Auditorium Shores … OK, maybe not if you’re a dog or a dog’s friend. Still, we’re always working to make Austin prettier and more fun.

Now Lamar Beach, the strip of land along the north side of Cesar Chavez Street, from Lamar Boulevard to Austin High School, looks like the next park project jewel for Austin, with swoopy architecture, a pool, large green spaces for more concerts and events - and an animal shelter.

Tonight, the city council decides if Austin Pets Alive!, which plays a huge role in making Austin a “no-kill” city and has worked out of the well-worn Town Lake Animal Center on that land since 2011, will be allowed to run that shelter.

APA!’s lease with the city ends in 2015, and the search for a new home isn’t easy. In case you haven’t noticed, real estate isn’t cheap here lately, and not all land is suitable for a shelter or placed where it’s easily accessible.

Many, including some council members (and, more importantly, Willie Nelson) support letting APA!, rather than the city, run (and, ahem, pay for) the new shelter. Opponents, though, say that private nonprofits like APA! have no place on public parkland.

A couple thousand runners and a thousand shelter dogs would tell you that APA!’s support of a program called RuffTail Runners actually brings more of the public to Lamar Beach and the hike-and-bike trail.

Team Spiridon, the running group I coach/oppress, heads RuffTail Runners, which gets the public out running or walking with shelter dogs, burning off some energy and stress, making them easier to train, better-behaved, healthier, happier, and therefore more adoptable.

As an organization completely independent of APA!, we’ve trained nearly 3,000 runners to handle and run with dogs properly. About 300 runs and walks a month are made from the shelter. (Sadly, while the Austin Animal Center wants us to, we aren’t allowed to run with city-held dogs, for legal reasons.)

RuffTail’s become a popular way for the public to run or walk around Lamar Beach and the trail, have a dog for a little while, and get some karmic recharge. And it’s Austin Pets Alive! that, as a private nonprofit, that had the vision and freedom to encourage it all, making their corner of Lamar Beach more like parkland than it has ever been.

We say the lake is the heart of Austin, but really, it’s just where we choose to put our most sacredly held things. We put our music there. We put the old Auditorium, now the Long Center, there. We put the YMCA there for our community’s health, Butler Park there for picnics and early-morning yoga, and fields there for kids to play soccer, baseball, and lacrosse.

We also put a trail around it all, for everyone to run, walk, bike, and maybe free a dog from the shelter to see the outside world, if only for a little while.