By Becky Jane Newbold
An uncommon friendship bond forged between an elephant and a dog grew to an internet sensation when a CBS News report highlighted how Tarra, the first resident of The Elephant Sanctuary (TES), was befriended by a stray named Bella. When a tragedy ended the bond, lives impacted around the globe by the relationship set into motion an event in June at which The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald partnered with the High Forest Humane Society to help strays.
“Bella was found out on paper company land between Christmas and New Year (2007),” Cofounder and former VP of Operations Scott Blais recounted in an email last month.
“I had spotted her out there a couple of weeks earlier but there were also folks logging at the time. When we picked her up to bring her home, the logging had ceased for several days and no one was around. Bella continued to stand guard over the equipment. She was a little underweight, a little wary of people but overall in pretty good shape. Once the
logging continued, I took her back out there but nobody seemed to know where she came from or who she belonged to,” he continued.
No one suspected that this mild-mannered canine would become a dear friend to not only the staff, but perhaps the most unlikely of animals, an elephant named Tarra. (Tarra was the inspiration for the formation of TES in 1995).
After Bella had been a part of TES family for six months or more, Blais and other staff would find the pair napping in close proximity to each other. But when Tarra would awaken to graze, Bella would return to the barn.
“A few days later as we arrived at the barn early one morning, Tarra was very bright-eyed but “talking” softly. As we approached, we noticed Bella sleeping in Tarra’s stall nestled into a pile of hay,” Blais told. “Tarra could no longer contain her excitement. She erupted into her barking and trumpeting sounds. Tarra had always liked dogs but this was the first time that a dog picked Tarra as her friend. That same morning we watched Tarra and Bella head off to the pasture together. It actually took several months, maybe up to a year, before Bella would let Tarra touch her, Bella had several parameters that slowly dissipated,” Blais said.
The pair became inseparable. One example of their companionship was shown when Bella became injured. “Everyday for weeks Tarra would come up to the recovery room to check on Bella. The level of trust and emotion they exhibited with one another was just amazing,” Education and Public Relations Manager Christina Cooper said.
Elephant Sanctuary followers and supporters were intrigued by the friendship. “I think everyone became so fascinated with Tarra and Bella because despite Tarra’s size of 8,600 pounds, Bella trusted her inexplicably. Many of the other dogs on the property may be a little hesitant to go near. Not Bella. “Bella was very much integrated with the elephants,” continued Christina.
In October of 2011, Bella was not with Tarra for breakfast. As staff members began searching, her lifeless body was found near the Asian Barn. Tarra, with traces of blood on her trunk had carried Bella home. Bella’s death, determined by Tennessee Wildlife officials and Veterinarian Dr. Steve Scott to have been caused by coyotes, resulted in waves of responses and donations to The Bella Fund from around the world. An amazing act of loyalty and astounding care on Tarra’s behalf as she grieved the passing of her dear companion spoke volumes to their bond.
Some may call it a lesson on allegiance with those who are different from us. To the friends at the Elephant Sanctuary, a day honoring Bella’s life and friendship with Tarra was envisioned. “Remembering Bella Day,” which took place on June 2, 2012, was a tribute to Tarra and Bella, two completely different animals whose friendship made a lasting impression upon people around the world.
“Remembering Bella Day was in itself a day to remember,” said CEO Rob Atkinson of The Elephant Sanctuary. “It was inspiring and heartwarming to see so many people—local visitors, visitors from out of state, Board, staff and volunteers—all coming together to celebrate people who care for animals and animals who, like Tarra and Bella, care for each other.”
Along with Remembering Bella Day, throughout the month of June, The Elephant Sanctuary partnered with The High Forest Humane Society to encourage people to adopt pets in Bella’s memory.
On Remembering Bella Day, 35 people came out to the Elephant Sanctuary Welcome Center, three dogs were adopted and several others were promised foster care. “It was a surprise to us,” said Christina. “Tarra and Bella truly had a remarkable impact on people.” The Bella Fund was established for the ongoing care of elephants and to assist with the care of strays that arrive at TES.
“Bella and Tarra, both unique and extraordinary beings, shared a friendship that resonated at a level few people ever truly get to experience,” Blais said. “They wandered through their life of Sanctuary exploring the outer reaches of compassion, trust and respect, along the way finding a level of joy that made these two of the luckiest creatures I’ve ever known. We all knew Tarra would outlive Bella and we all wish they could have had a few more years, but I feel it is fair to say they lived their lives the way they wanted, side by side, with happy hearts,” Blais concluded.
Contributions to this story by Katie Hayes.