BY FRANK WOOTEN

For what, to what and from what do they run?

No, not the few folks still in the running for the 1st Congressional District seat.

The 35,000 or so folks who will participate in Saturday’s 36th annual Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk.

Though their individual motives vary, one incentive shared by most of the bridgers is getting, and/or staying, fit.

Fortunately, though, even those of us who won’t run with that crowd enjoy an abundance of local venues for beneficial physical activity.

Our kind also has a ready and willing running partner: Man’s Best Friend.

Most dogs like to run.

No, not “the running dogs of capitalism.”

The eager exercisers available, at relatively modest cost, at the Charleston Animal Society in North Charleston, Pet Helpers on James Island and other area shelters with wonderful critters in need of good homes.

This non-Bridge runner found an ideal workout sidekick at the Charleston Animal Society in 1992 — a terrier mutt whom I named Maggie in honor of former British Prime Minister Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher. She ran, ran and ran some more for most of her 17 years with us.

Two and a half years after Maggie ran her last lap, we adopted a dachshund (or is she a dachshund mix?) — also from the Charleston Animal Society. My wife dubbed her Coco.

No, I can’t keep up with Coco as she cuts loose at top-end speed on the beach. When properly enthused, which is often, she can churn her four very short legs at a remarkable rate.

But she does halt when I yell “Stop!” Most of the time.

Eventually.

Coco puts on her best acceleration shows — and records her fastest times — while in zealous pursuit of rodents with bushy tails, aka squirrels.

They’ve all eluded her (so far), thanks to their ability, and her inability, to climb trees.

Yet she will jog along with me when leashed.

So if you think not running the bridge precludes sweating off excess poundage, or that dogs are only good for barking you awake and greeting you like a conquering hero when you return home, think again.

Among the many advantages running with one dog holds over running with 35,000 humans:

A dog likely won’t notice if you’ve gained weight — and absolutely won’t make a snide remark about it.

A dog won’t harangue you about the perceived perils, or lack thereof, of gay marriage, congressional candidates, climate change, the national debt, voter ID, obesity, cruise ships, vice-presidential vacations, finishing I-526 or chopping down trees along I-26.

However, a dog, or at least my dog, will chase squirrels — and occasionally cats — up trees.

And unlike children of our species, a dog won’t grow up and move away to a distant realm.

A dog can also teach you, by visual example, the importance of stretching before running and the sheer joy of dashing from Point A to Point B as quickly as your legs — long or short, young or old — can carry you.

You might even learn that the “discipline, exercise and affection” formula so wisely advocated by “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan works quite well on two-legged mammals, too.

So don’t just let the big dogs hunt and the dogs of all sizes run.

Run with them. And if you can’t run, keep in mind that dogs like going on walks.

Getting out and about with a dog can lighten not just your physical but your emotional load.

It also might make you less vulnerable to ever-expanding Nanny State edicts. For instance, even a governor who bills herself as a small-government conservative — our own Nikki Haley — now wants to prohibit food-stamp purchases of soda, candy and other high-sugar, low-fiber foods.

There is a bottom-line logic to not feeding, at taxpayer expense, unhealthy habits that raise public medical-care costs.

And there’s a lesson here in government’s Golden Rule:

If government pays for it, government makes the rules.

But there’s also a practical benefit to the healthy differences, on so many levels, that dogs can make for you.

OK, so animal shelters have cats up for adoption, too.

Just don’t count on felines as viable running mates.

And don’t count out going to the dogs to get in better shape.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.