In 2014, Bella was a super-energetic, six-month-old black Lab who had ended up at the Vanderburgh Humane Society. I was a marathon runner of 15 years who was experiencing runner’s burnout and needed help falling in love with the sport again. I also needed protection on my solitary, early-morning runs on country roads. So, I went to the shelter looking for a dog.
As soon as I saw Bella, I knew her spunky energy would make her the perfect running partner. I consulted my vet and he advised that she was a little young to start running with me; it would be better to wait until she was a year old, he said. I was eager, but took his advice.
In the beginning, I trained her just like I would a person new to the sport. At first, she only joined me on my cool-down runs. Then, we started with low mileages and added distance over time. When we were training and I knew Bella was getting tired, I’d encourage her by using the phrase “Run, Bella, run.” This seemed to give her a little pep in her step.
Bella learned that it felt better to run on soft surfaces, such as grass. When we ran on concrete, I used an ointment to protect her paws, and examined them after each run. During the summer months, we ran very early in the morning, before the sun came up. Also, we took lots of water breaks. Bella’s black fur absorbs heat, so, since dogs don’t sweat like people do, I was very careful not to allow her to overheat. And because dogs need more fat in their diet when they run long distances, I switched Bella to puppy food when we trained for high mileages.
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Finally, when Bella was not quite two years old, we entered her first half marathon. Bella ran the entire 13.1 miles as a race participant, wearing her own bib and receiving her own medal. After that race, I knew Bella was truly special.
We started a campaign called “Run Bella Run to the Rescue.” This campaign has brought awareness to rescuing high-energy dogs, taught others how a dog can help them stay active and raised money for the Vanderburgh Humane Society. In fact, Bella has raised more than $10,000 for the shelter and helped many dogs get adopted. Her story has been an inspiration.
It has been five years since our training began, and I cannot imagine running without my loyal partner. She has more medals than most human runners. To date, she has run 30 half marathons, three full marathons, and countless 10-milers and 5Ks. These races have taught me that Bella is a competitor. She does not like to be passed on the racecourse, and will often work harder if someone is trying to pass her.
Bella also loves the atmosphere. She likes to greet all the runners, and when the start nears, she sits patiently until the National Anthem plays, then barks and starts jumping. Her best mile time is 6:32, best half-marathon time is 1:43:01 and best marathon is 4:03:19. She won “Overall Female” at a half marathon, and the City of Evansville even proclaimed a “Run Bella Run to the Rescue Day.”
Every morning, Bella wakes me up, eager to run. This keeps me motivated because she needs me. If I don’t run, she’ll get up to some pretty mischievous behavior later. We train in all seasons and in all weather conditions. Her favorite is to run in the rain and splash through the puddles. I think it keeps her cool. You can tell she truly loves to run and because of this, I’ve learned to love it again too.
I was told by someone at the humane society that, due to her energy level, Bella would most likely have been adopted out and returned a few times before being surrendered permanently and possibly euthanized. So, this is a story of lost souls found and lives delivered from low points.
I look back on the day I met Bella at the Vanderburgh Humane Society and am so thankful that we rescued one another.