Bella was one of my favorite dogs, especially considering she didn't even belong to me. This is a dog story, with a moral for everyone.
A black and white female border collie, Bella was a credit to her species, so smart you would swear she knew what you were thinking. She could cajole even the most reluctant bystander into a game of fetch, bringing you any woebegone stick she could put her muzzle on, and meaningfully lay it at your feet and look up at you with the most come-play-with-me eyes.
A friend of ours, Elmer, had given it to his daughter, Edie, one year for Christmas, but Bella immediately set about endearing herself to everyone. Edie trained her not only in the finer arts of fetching and shaking hands, but to stand patiently with a delicious morsel on her nose until the precise second when Edie signaled; she'd whip her snout up and of course it disappeared just like that. Bella would stay put in the middle of the driveway and not venture near the road when Edie collected the mail, and never ran off. "She knows her borders," Edie emphasized.
But on January 30, Elmer called Edie about 10 p.m. Edie, 23, had recently moved to town. The dog remained at the homestead, where he had room to run. Edie would visit frequently of course, and occasionally took Bella with her to go visit a friend. Had Edie done so that day, Elmer inquired of his daughter? Bella, the almost-seven-year-old pal, was missing.
Edie was immediately upset, but said no, she hadn't taken the dog anywhere. The last any family member had seen Bella was around two p.m. They'd heard barking in the woods--maybe, uncharacteristically, Bella had wandered off. The day was icy and cold. Maybe she'd come back seeking warmth in the night.
Edie had the next day off so she went to her home with a friend and they spent three hours tramping in the woods, to no avail. When darkness fell, they started knocking on doors and calling neighbors. No one had seen Bella. The next day, Edie's friend called a local call-in radio show to report a missing dog. After the weekend passed with no sign of Bella, Edie and Elmer ran an ad in the local paper, offering a reward. Edie made fliers and posted 30 of them around the community and called area SPCAs.
Edie's older brothers began preparing her for the worst, talking about maybe this was better than ever having to put a dog down, for instance. Edie couldn't stand such talk: she knew Bella would show up; she wouldn't give up. "I knew I had to keep trying to find her," Edie recalled. Her father, to his credit, believed, too.
Everyone was very helpful, Edie said, but she had a hard time dealing with any naysayers. We tried not to think about the coyotes that are increasingly rampant in the region. We tried not to think about Bella maybe cornered by a pack of big mean strays, or with a paw stuck in a ravine during those sub-20 degree days.
Three weeks later Edie casually checked her cell messages on her lunch break from her job, something she didn't usually do. She began to scream and cry: Ernest Gordon, from Mathias, West Virginia, 20 miles to the west, had left her a long, rambling, message. He was sure he had Edie's dog! Ernest had spotted her one evening five miles down the road when he'd had to brake for her. Then the next night she had shown up at his house. He and his family immediately sensed that despite no collar, this was a very well-mannered, intelligent, well-cared-for dog. She could fetch, shake hands. Ernest's family bathed her, fed her, and called her "Grandma" because they thought she was elderly.
Then Ernest saw one of the fliers in town. The flier said the dog would answer to the name "Bella." Ernest drove home and went to the dog. "Bella," he tested. Her ears perked to attention! Edie's dog was alive and doing well.
Long story short, Bella was joyfully reunited with her excited true owners but quickly wore a look of "okay, so I had my little adventure, what's everybody crying about?" I share this happy-ending tale to thank Ernest for being honest enough to return a valuable, beloved dog and to remind everyone to be likewise goodhearted when given the opportunity.
It also reminds me of how the Bible says that Jesus is like a shepherd going out to hunt down the lost sheep (a lost dog?) and never gives up hope that we will somehow return to him if we've lost our way.