LOST DOG: What Happened to Bella?
Bella, a fourteen-year-old, tan, fluffy, Spitz mix was a treasured family member and beloved pet of Emili and her mother Donna. Emili adopted Bella from the Wake County Animal Shelter several years ago, and since then the two were rarely apart. For Donna, Bella was not just any dog. She was her grand-dog. Donna always looked forward to taking care of Bella whenever Emili had to travel out of town for work.
One night the unthinkable happened. Bella wandered outside, never to be seen by her family again.
Bella is Gone
In the early evening of Wednesday, November 2, Emili and Bella went to visit friends in Durham after a routine vet appointment for Bella. Within fifteen minutes of arriving at the home on the corner of Luther and Rose of Sharon Roads, Emili noticed Bella was not with them. A side door had been left open. Emili searched the house and yard, calling Bella’s name. It was dark outside and Bella had simply vanished.
Distraught and panicked, Emili called her mom in Raleigh. Donna left immediately and drove to Durham to help her daughter look.
Bella is Picked up
Not far from where Bella got out of the house, Jessica and her son were on their way home from Riverside High School via Luther Road. They drove by a tan, medium sized, fluffy dog. At her son’s urging, they stopped, got out and checked the dog for ID tags. Finding no visible identification except for a pink collar, they put the dog in the car to get her out of harm’s way. Jessica’s son took a picture and posted it on Snapchat in case someone was looking for her.
They stopped at a 24-hour vet clinic to have the dog scanned for a microchip. Veterinary staff found a chip and provided the information to Jessica, who called HomeAgain and reported the lost dog.
After arriving home from the vet’s office, they fed the dog and let her out in the backyard. Jessica noticed the dog had some stiffness in her back legs. Standing and walking on hard, slick surfaces inside the house was difficult for her. But other than stiff legs, she seemed fine. She was a sweet, friendly old gal that obviously belonged to someone.
Frantic Search for Bella
While Bella was at Jessica’s house, Emili and Donna searched frantically for her late into the night. At 3:00 am, Emili filled out a “Lost Dog” form on the Animal Protection Society of Durham’s website, and posted Bella’s situation on her Facebook page and other local Lost Pet pages including Lost & Found Dogs - North Carolina and Lost & Found Pets of the Triangle. Donna did the same on her own social media accounts.
The next morning, Thursday, Emili and Donna awoke early to continue looking for Bella. While Donna was out printing flyers and Lost Dog posters, Emili stood on the corner of Rose of Sharon Road. Facing the morning commute traffic, she held up Bella’s leash and a handmade sign that read “Have You Seen My Dog?”.
Just before 10:30 am, Emili arrived at The Animal Protection Society of Durham (APS) in tears and pleading for help. She was directed by shelter staff to search the main kennel areas but saw no sign of her dog. Before leaving the shelter, she gave Bella flyers to every shelter employee and volunteer she met and left more with front desk personnel. She begged them to keep an eye out for Bella.
For the remainder of the day, Emili widened her ground search around the Rose of Sharon/Riverside High School area. She spoke to residents and explored every place she thought Bella could be hiding or stuck. She cut up her clothes and placed scraps of fabric in a trail leading back to her friends’ house. While Emili looked, Donna blanketed the neighborhood and surrounding area with Bella flyers. She posted Lost Dog signs at churches, shopping centers and businesses throughout central Durham.
After an exhausting first day of searching and no leads, Emili and Donna hired a dog tracker who arrived that evening. The tracking canines picked up Bella’s scent at the house and followed it down Luther Road near the high school where Bella had been picked up by Jessica and her son.
Bella Taken to the Shelter
While the dog trackers followed Bella’s trail, Jessica arrived home on Thursday night and called Durham Sheriff’s Animal Services to pick up the dog. Due to her landlord’s “No Pets” policy she could no longer keep her.
When the Animal Services Officer (ASO) arrived, his microchip scan revealed the friendly, docile dog had a chip. Jessica also gave him the paper she received from the vet with the dog’s microchip information. Per the officer’s incident report, he was unable to get any owner information from a HomeAgain operator. The officer drove the dog to APS and impounded her in the after-hours night-hold area, kennel DN02. When contacted by Triangle Paws for this story, Durham Sheriff’s Department reported the dog was friendly and playful during the impound process.
First thing Friday morning at APS, the dog in night-hold was recorded in kennel inventory. Various volunteers and employees saw her during their rounds, including a surgical technician at 8:00 am. Nothing unusual about the dog stuck out to anyone except that she was sleeping a lot.
Jessica, still thinking about the old friendly dog she and her son found, called APS around 10:00 am to ask if the she was still there. A shelter employee confirmed the dog had been brought in by Animal Services the night before and they were trying to figure out what to do with her.
On his morning rounds, the Kennel Manager noticed the dog in night-hold kennel DN02 had not touched her food. Concerned about her, he picked her up and noticed she had difficulty standing on the concrete floor and would not walk on her own. He radioed the front desk for any information on the old, chow mix in night-hold with possible injuries. The front desk radioed back that there was no information for a dog fitting that description.
The impound receipt left at the front desk by the ASO when Bella was dropped off contained few details: a stray, docile, tan mix and a photo. To further complicate matters, the impound receipt had an owner name, address and phone number that did not match up to Emili or Jessica.
By this time, there were several clues about the dog in night-hold kennel DN02: the photo on the impound receipt, Emili’s emotional visit to the shelter the previous day, the flyers she gave to staff with Bella’s photo, and Jessica’s call that morning. But the clues were not put together to connect Bella to her owner.
That afternoon, after a second morning of searching for Bella, Emili returned to APS to see if she had been brought in. She was guided through the kennels by a shelter representative. They viewed the back kennels first and worked their way toward the front. But for some inexplicable reason, Emili was not shown the night-hold area where Bella was lying in a kennel, unable to stand on the hard, slippery floor.
The Kennel Manager checked the dog in night-hold around 4:00 pm, not long after Emili had left the shelter. He saw the dog had not moved nor touched her food. He contacted the Medical Department and asked for someone to examine her. It is not known if anyone from the shelter’s veterinary staff checked the dog after the kennel manager made the request.
That evening an ASO from Durham Sheriff’s Department arrived at APS to impound a stray. While in the night-hold room, the officer noticed a tan, fluffy dog that appeared to be dead, the same dog brought in the night prior, Bella. Upon entering the kennel where Bella lay sleeping, the officer realized she was alive. She helped the dog up and noticed she could not stand on her own. According to the officer, the dog appeared to be paralyzed. The officer called her Lieutenant to report a possibly injured dog in night-hold at APS. The Lieutenant immediately called the Shelter Director at home to report the officer’s observations. The Shelter Director called the Kennel Manager, asked him to go to the shelter and check on a dog that was believed to be suffering based on the information given by the Lieutenant.
When the Kennel Manager arrived at the shelter at 9:35 pm he scanned for a microchip but did not find one. He called the Shelter Director to confirm the dog’s condition: she had not touched her food, could not stand up or walk on her own and could not get to water. The Kennel Manager confirmed the Shelter Director’s order to put the dog down. Bella was euthanized by lethal injection at 9:48 pm, twenty-six hours after she was brought to the shelter.
Bella's Legacy & Call to Action
Bella’s story has hit everyone hard including her family who tried desperately to find her, the good Samaritans who picked her up and took her home, and the staff and volunteers at APS who are deeply saddened by what happened.
Since Bella’s tragic death, APS has made several important policy changes, including:
- Animals brought to the shelter after-hours and in need of medical attention will now be transported to a veterinary clinic whether they have identification or not.
- Pet owners looking for their lost pet at APS must now sign-in at the front desk and be escorted through the shelter by a staff member or volunteer. Shelter representatives escorting pet owners must also initial the sign-in page next to the owner’s name.
North Carolina Animal Welfare law requires public and private shelters to allow individuals looking for their lost pets to view every animal in the shelter, including those in areas not accessible to the public (with limited exceptions). Animal Welfare code requires shelters to hold strays for 72 hours unless medically unstable. Some counties, such as Durham, allow for a longer stray hold.
This story is likely to enrage and sadden many. Some may seek to punish the shelter by withholding donations or not volunteering. A few may try to discredit the owners on social media. And others may shrug it off as a series of unfortunate events. However, actions like these do nothing to help lost pets find their way home or unwanted animals find loving families, and ends up hurting all companion animals. Constructive work comes in understanding what happened and working together to prevent the kind of incidents that led up to Bella's death. This takes effort from all of us: pet owners, shelter staff and volunteers, law enforcement, animal advocates and policy makers.