Take a second and let thoughts of the furry little critters wash over you. No, don’t think about the possibility of them peeing in the corner. Just focus on how adorable they are. And cuddly. And playful.

Don’t you feel calmer? Less anxious? That’s because having dogs around can be good for your health. If you’re anything like me, you love dogs and want to own one—but now just isn’t the right time. Maybe you’re not home all that often. Or you don’t have a backyard. Or your partner is allergic. Thanks to Aspen Animal Shelter, you can still get some of that dog-and-me time.

The shelter’s Dog Walking Program is a free service where volunteers “adopt” a dog for the day. It gets the pooches outside, exercising, and socializing—and thanks to the yellow vests they sport, informs everyone they come in contact with that they’re up for real adoption. “The value that the volunteers are giving back to the dogs is invaluable. Sometimes I feel like I should be paying the people,” jokes executive director Seth Sachson (pictured, right). Plus, the volunteers get a companion for the day and exercise themselves.

The no-kill shelter is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and has about 30 adoptable dogs (of the 500 they see annually) at any given time. Sachson says volunteers are a mixed breed themselves: women who don’t want to walk a trail alone; parents in need of a surrogate dog for their kids since they couldn’t bring the family pooch to the hotel they’re staying at; or even couples out on a first date. When volunteers arrive in the morning, shelter staff will either pair them with a dog that’s a good fit for their planned day of activities or, if they’re considering adopting, pair dog-to-walker only after a more extensive interview. Sachson says even people who don’t come in planning to adopt a dog sometimes wind up with a Rover of their own. It’s a “gateway to adoption,” he says.

So do as the shelter advertises: “Exercise your heart, walk a dog.”

Images courtesy of Seth Sachson/Aspen Animal Shelter

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.