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Pooler Magazine

The Best Race SWAG: A Pawsitively Fun Race Changed Two Lives Fur-ever

The Best Race SWAG: A Pawsitively Fun Race Changed Two Lives Fur-ever

Story by Donna Pfendler-Merkle

Two-year-old Ayra and her seven puppies were taken to Chatham County Animal Services (CCAS) when her owners no longer wanted her or her puppies. CCAS staff contacted Renegade Paws Rescue to pull the nursing mom and her pups from the shelter into a better environment. Ayra was scared, sad, and seemed to have given up hope of ever having a happy life.

Jennifer (Jen) Taylor, Director and founder of Renegade Paws Rescue, took Ayra and her puppies to foster care, where they were given time to decompress and be examined by a veterinarian. After the puppies began eating food and were quickly adopted. Ayra was spayed and taken to an adult dog foster home.

A Chance at a New Start

It was the morning of the Fast and the Furriest Race—a unique trail race that gave

people an opportunity not only to run with their pups, but also to meet and run with a pup from a local rescue. Ayra was not supposed to go to the race, but was chosen at the last minute. “To be honest I wasn’t sure she would be much of a runner,” Jen said.

“Ayra was more of a play-with-my-doggie-friends dog.”

Bambi Carrino, a traveling nurse stationed in Savannah, ran track and cross country in high school. She has run dozens of half marathons, two marathons, and two ultras. She jumped at the chance to run the Fast and the Furriest Race not only because it was a trail run but because it gave her a chance to run with a rescue. “I had taken a few opportunities in LA and DC to take rescues for hikes, visit in shelters, etc. to fill the ‘pet void’ I was experiencing as a travel nurse.”

“I was actually supposed to run with a different dog. Jen said that even though Ayra was, ‘short, thick, and didn’t look like much of a runner,’ that she’d ‘get the job done.’ Which is exactly how I feel about myself as a runner. In fact, I think all I said to Jen was ‘SAME!’.”

Bambi and Ayra were a perfect match. “I am sure I loved her before we even took a single step. We were either running or playing in the puddles and tide, which is exactly my speed and philosophy on running. You could tell she was thrilled to be out there and it was infectious. Being able to focus on her made the miles fly by because I took in my surroundings more instead of being in my head or feeling uncomfortable.”

The purpose of Savannah Kennel Club’s Fast and the Furriest Race and the Paws to Pavement Walking events—in conjunction with Fleet Feet of Savannah— is to promote the importance of heart-healthy exercise for humans and dogs. “This was the inaugural Fast and Furriest Race. Organizing this event was a dream come true bringing my two loves together—dogs and running,” said Donna Merkle, Race Director and Community Outreach Coordinator for the Savannah Kennel Club. “I remem­ber Bambi telling me about her running partner and that it was the best race she had ever run. It brought tears of joy to my eyes—this is exactly why we put so much effort into this event.”

“As an avid runner and dog lover my­self, Fleet Feet Savannah could not pass up the chance to partner with the Kennel Club on this freakin’ awesome race,” said Mike Nadeau, owner of Fleet Feet Savan­nah and Pooler. “Our running and walk­ing communities look forward to our events with the pups. We are proud of the part we play in bringing these com­munities together.”

Ayra went back to her foster home, but Bambi could not forget about Ayra. She knew she wanted to adopt Ayra the day of the race but wanted to make sure it was the right decision for her and Ayra. Bambi talked about her for two days to whoever would listen, and her friends and family encouraged her to adopt Ayra.

“!t was very important to me to be a good, responsible pet owner. They said my amount of concern and anxiety over being a good dog mom proved that I was ready, and I am so glad I listened! I let Jen know on Monday that I wanted to be Zahra’s (for­merly Ayra) furever home and on Tuesday, October 1, she became the best race swag I ever earned!”

Today Zahra is living her best life. She travels with Bambi across the country on nursing assignments. She has been to Chattanooga, NYC, New Orleans, and now Tam­pa. Bambi has learned to be patient with herself and Zahra after a move.

“I have to give myself grace and know that I’m try­ing my best by her, even if the situation may not be ideal. I don’t want anyone going into adopting think­ing they got the wrong dog or are the wrong parent just because things aren’t perfect 100% of the time. There’s a lot to consider before adopting, but it’ll always be a work in progress wheth­er they have a pure bred or a rescue! Despite the work, Zahra has brought so much love and light to my life and I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Bambi and Zahra continue to run trails and hike wherever they go. Zahra is also a great soccer player and Frisbee catch­er extraordinaire. Her absolute favorite things in the world, though, are bubbles and belly rubs!