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When one animal shelter community outreach coordinator approached a local cross-country high school coach about pairing his students with the facility's homeless dogs for running dates, the idea was to get exposure for the canines and offer the teens a twist on their practices.

Neither Stacy Silva, Santa Barbara County Animal Services community outreach coordinator, nor St. Joseph High School cross-country coach Luis Escobar ever imagined their recent partnership would shine a national spotlight on the county's shelter and its dogs, as well as the students who run at the private high school. 

But that's exactly what happened after Escobar posted a short video to Facebook of his students running with the shelter dogs.

The video went viral, garnering more than 2 million views since it was originally posted last fall, and eventually attracted the eyes of a PBS production team.

That team spent 2 1/2 days locally last October filming an episode of "Shelter Me," a 60-minute educational program that airs on PBS about positive things happening at shelters across the United States, as well as strides being made globally to protect the welfare of animals. 

The episode — "Shelter Me: Community Matters" — filmed locally is narrated by Dr. Jane Goodall and is the seventh in the series of programs. A red carpet premiere of the program will be held at St. Joseph's on March 4. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.com.

"They have put a lot of time and energy into really creating each episode, making them special and truly telling the story of each program they cover," Silva said. "Their goal is to share these ideas and tell the story of how it came about so other shelters may be able to emulate that."

Also featured in the newest episode are an animal shelter in the Sacramento area, where teens read to the facility's dogs and cats to help comfort them as they wait to be adopted, and footage of an organization that trains shelter dogs to help protect endangered elephants and rhinos in Africa.

"In our episode we do talk a little about our shelter and the community of Santa Maria," Silva added, "the number of animals that we see each year, and, of course, the impact that the (cross-country) kids have when they come into our facility."

The locally filmed "Shelter Me" episode began airing on PBS in January and some Santa Barbara residents already have seen the program — airing depends on an individual's cable provider's affiliate with PBS — and the world premiere was held earlier this month in Beverly Hills.

Silva and Escobar attended the screening, and it was the first time either had seen the episode they played an integral part in helping create.

"It was an incredible experience," Silva said. "Our intention was not to make it into this big media event. It was really just doing good right here in the community, helping the animals and giving the kids a little different experience. We could have never imagined it would take off at the rate that it did."

Escobar agreed his goal was not to gain the media attention the partnership has recognized. But, he said, his hope now is that others in the community will be inspired to get involved in making the lives of shelter animals better in any way they can.

"None of this was ever intended," Escobar said. "We were just going to run with the dogs, and it exploded into this incredible opportunity. Anybody can do it. It doesn't have to a be big thing; it can just be walking a dog."

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April Charlton covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter@WordsDawn

 

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