By Savanah Mandeville • Photos by Mandy Edmonson

A common piece of advice given to people starting a fitness journey is, “Do it for you.”

And it’s solid advice.

But Kelly Johnson’s story as a runner started a little differently. In fact, Kelly might challenge aspiring runners to do it for someone else — perhaps someone with four legs and a wet nose.

“I would encourage anyone who’s looking for motivation to start running to consider volunteering with shelter dogs at the Joplin Humane Society,” she said. “There is a size and speed of dog for any type of runner, for any age. This program is 100 percent a win-win!”

Although Kelly had always been interested in health and fitness, she didn’t get serious about it until she started volunteering to walk shelter dogs five years ago.

“My husband had been on the board for the Humane Society. One day we were just talking, and he mentioned they had a dog-walking program, so I thought I’d go check it out,” she said. “I was hooked immediately. It was so eye-opening for me. It was clear immediately that the dogs loved running and needed it so much. I just hadn’t thought about them being stuck in a kennel 24/7 and how stressful that is on a dog, especially the bigger, energetic dogs.”

Before long, Kelly was volunteering every day. She started taking dogs to the Frisco Trail for runs and even taking them out for “pup cups” of ice cream from Sonic afterward. After a few months, she noticed there was unused land behind the shelter and went to work developing a walking and running trail to entice new volunteers. In 2019, the Joplin Humane Society was selected as the non-profit beneficiary of the Joplin Memorial Run’s annual fundraiser. The money went toward improvements to the running trail and play yards.

“We now have several regular walkers and runners and many who come when they can,” she said. “I can’t begin to describe the absolute joy this brings to the shelter dogs, which in turn fills me with so much joy!”

Not only has Kelly gotten the satisfaction of helping dogs in need, she has developed a dedicated running routine and seen health benefits to boot. When she started running, she would usually go short distances and not track her mileage. Today, she runs 3-7 miles per day and often participates in running events. For the last three years, she has put together a relay team of Humane Society volunteers to participate in the Joplin Memorial Run.

“It has become a passion and is absolutely 100 percent motivating. To me, the dogs are the motivation,” she said. “For example, on a day that might be cold outside or not ideal running weather where I could easily skip a day, I think about the dogs and how desperately they need outside. I put my weather fears aside and, you know, there have been days that it snowed, but it turns out to be the most fun day when you take a dog out running in the snow!”