published Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Bella back home: Pit bull returns to Georgia after accident kills owner

  • photo
    Karen Talbot emerges from her van to present Bella the pit bull to members of the Sullivan family.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A crowd of 75 people welcomed pit bull Bella home in Chatsworth, Ga., last Thursday after she survived a truck accident in Pennsylvania that threw her from the vehicle and killed her owner, driver Richard Sullivan.

Bringing Bella home was a coordinated effort across the country, said Karen Talbot, a founder of New Jersey-based Animal Aid USA. The organization does extensive work in Georgia with animal rescues.

Talbot said she got the call from Julie Wynn, a worker with God Only Knows Animal Rescue in Georgia. Wynn called asking Talbot to help with the dog's rehabilitation, and to ultimately get Bella back to her family.

"Of course; what do you need me to do?" was her response.

Bella needed one back leg amputated. She had burns on her belly, ears and paws. Her other back leg was broken.

Talbot said they raised about $5,000 in donations, which covered all of Bella's rehabilitation costs, as well as a lifetime supply of food and rawhide chews. Bella stayed at a vet clinic in Pennsylvania from Aug. 3 to Aug. 20 -- the day before Talbot, along with first responders from the accident, set out to bring her home.

They drove her in a truck plastered with photos of Bella and the Sullivan family. They asked truck drivers to flash their lights if they saw the truck, in memory of Richard Sullivan.

"We didn't want to lose sight of the fact that we were bringing Bella home because her father had died," Talbot said.

On the way, Talbot said they stopped at a rest stop in Tennessee, and Bella jumped out as if she recognized the area.

"It was so apparent to me that this was one of the stops that she and Mr. Sullivan frequently made," she said. "That's when it began to sink in for me that this was her last road trip."

At the homecoming, Bella got out of the van and, after a few minutes, realized where she was, Talbot said. She began walking around, tail wagging, licking everyone.

Talbot said in that moment, all of her fears about the dog's rehabilitation disappeared.

"It's like we were handing them a piece of their father," she said. "That was the only connection left with their dad, and we brought her home. It was one of those moments that really took your breath away."

Desiree Sullivan, Richard Sullivan's daughter-in-law, said Bella is doing very well and has improved remarkably even in the few days she's been home. She's expected to make a full recovery soon.

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at or at 423-757-6731.

about Hannah Smith...

Hannah Smith is a staff reporter for the Times Free Press. She previously worked as a Pulliam Fellow at the Indianapolis Star and as a Middle East news reporter at the Global Post in Boston. She has also spent time in broadcast, interning at Channel 13 WTHR in Indianapolis, and radio, as a reporter for American Student Radio. Hannah graduated with honors from Indiana University in May with degrees in journalism and Arabic. There she ...

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