RANDLEMAN — Bella, a Hoke County family's beloved pet has been found, safe and sound, seven days after she jumped from the family vehicle following an accident on Interstate 73/74 in Asheboro.

Bella was found Wednesday about four miles from the accident scene — on the porch of Trinity Holiness Church parsonage on Plainfield Road in Sophia.

Lori Cole, the wife of Pastor Tim Cole, said that the dog growled at family members when they tried to get near her.

“We could see her tag said Bella on it, but we could not get close to her,” Cole said. “We went to church and told everyone about her and they knew that it was the dog everyone was looking for. It was a neat feeling to know that she was found.”

Kelie, Drew, Jimmy and Dillon Johnson are elated to have Bella back again.

“We had scrimped and scraped to give Drew a trip to Disney World for his 12th birthday and were in Florida when Lori called and said, 'I think I have your dog.' When we found out that she was found, I went ballistic. I ran outside of the hotel (we were staying in) and ran up and down and yelled and screamed and dropped to my knees and prayed. That phone call came exactly one week after she was lost — almost to the minute.”

The family cut their vacation short Thursday and drove 13 hours to Randleman to get to Bella, who was in the safe hands of Randleman resident Renee Bryant. They called their son, Dillon, the dog's owner, and he was speechless, Kelie said.

The wreck

Bella's story unfolded last week when Kelie and her 12-year-old son, Drew, were on their way across country to deliver Bella, a red Labrador retriever, to Dillon. They were going to meet him half way.

“Drew and I left Raeford, headed to Evansville, Ind., to meet Dillon, and four hours from his home in Nebraska, Dillon's truck broke down,” she said in an article that ran in The Courier-Tribune Jan. 5.

So Kelie and Drew turned around and headed back to North Carolina.

“We decided that since we couldn't meet Dillon, we would just keep Bella an extra month and arrange to meet at the end of January,” she said.

While passing through Asheboro at about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 3, in the middle of a sudden snowstorm that hit the area, the Johnsons' vehicle hit a patch of black ice on I-73/74 near the Pineview exit, totaling their car. Thankfully, no one was injured, but Bella, spooked, jumped out of the window and disappeared into the dark.

Volunteers came out in force — at one point, close to 500 seeking clues and searching for Bella. There were random clues to trace the dog. Her pink sweater was found, and she was spotted wearing her trademark pink glittery collar.

People in Asheboro and Randleman, police, the N.C. Highway Patrol patrol, even postal workers joined volunteers in the search.

'Angels' rally to help

Kelie added that shortly after the accident, an Asheboro man who works in High Point stopped to help. He was Bella's first “angel,” she said.

“He” was Willie Tate of Asheboro.

“I was on my way home and saw the accident,” Tate said. “I told myself that I had to go check because somebody had surely got hurt. Kelie was torn up (emotionally) because the dog was gone. I thought the dog was probably down in the thicket. The car was totaled and she had nowhere to go, so I took them to my house to stay the night and I went back out and looked for the dog. I found her footprints so I knew she was alive, but didn't know where she was.”

Tate said that he took the next day off from work to help the Johnsons.

“Everybody started looking for this dog,” he said. “Every day I drove that way home and would stop at businesses and hand out flyers and show people the dog's picture.

“I sure am glad it turned out this way. I told her that she just did not know the people around here. Everything worked out perfectly.”

Passionate posts

Pamela Vuncannon of Asheboro was instrumental in bringing this story to a happy ending, too. She and other volunteers flooded the area with flyers, and using social media, brought Bella's plight to others in the community.

Vuncannon administers the Lost and Found Pets Asheboro, NC and Surrounding Area page on Facebook and shared Bella's flyer on it.

“I had gotten alerted when she went missing,” Vuncannon said. “… we immediately started posting and tagging people to help network the information. I also texted the family and told them that I wanted to talk to them about their missing dog. After she told me her story, I started a thread with Renee Bryant, who is a great resource for me, and others who are good at searching.

“We made up our minds to get out several hundred flyers and volunteers went door to door — it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Posts showed how passionate searchers were, hoping to find Bella and bring her home.

Lori Moss Brim posted: “Went riding around off Spero, Caraway and towards 311 around 430. Just came back through that area and nothing. This is driving me crazy. We need to find her:(“

Vuncannon posted: “Sighting at 12:00 Old hwy 311 at New Market School and Midway service station, running on to old plank Rd behind school and service station. Still has collar and tag, no sweater. If it's her, she is circling back toward wreck location, caller was very certain. She is very scared and ran when approached/called, DO NOT CHASE, take a picture and call asap, we will have people there in minutes.”

Jaime Vaughn Waynick asked: “Can someone take portable grill to area to cook bacon or hotdogs? If she's out, hopefully she'll be hungry and follow her nose.”

Another mentioned leaving chicken nuggets in a field where she had been sighted.

Bella's safe!

Once notified of her location, Bryant, who serves as a member of the Randleman Board of Aldermen, was able to coax Bella from the parsonage's porch using the dog's toys, her dog bed (which she retrieved from Kelie's parents a few days before), and lunch meat provided by Cole.

“Pam had told me that she was growling, so I pulled out my secret weapons,” Bryant said. “I kind of caught her off guard and put her bed in front of her. I threw some sandwich meat down to her and then turned my back and pretended to eat the lunch meat, too. Within seconds, I had her over my shoulder. We got to the car and she saw my boyfriend (who resembles Dillon Johnson) and she jumped right in.”

Bryant said that she took the dog home and called the Johnsons and told them that she had Bella.

“There were so many people spending so much more time than me searching for Bella,” she said. “Once she was safe, it made my heart happy to be able to reunite her with this young man.

“What a great sense of community to just be able to help.”

The Johnsons will head out Saturday to meet Dillon and finally give Bella to him.

“This community is awesome,” Kelie said. “I've lived in Raeford for 24 years and never met such nice people as I have in this community in the last week. We may be moving to Randleman when we retire!

“For people to not know us and not know Bella and just accept us and take us in — Randleman is going to be stuck with us for years. My heart is so full with overwhelming gratitude and love for the people here. They searched for her and took her in when she was found.

“I won't lie. (When this happened) I doubted my faith in humanity, but not anymore. I don't think there is another group of people anywhere who could have made this happen like this.

“We're just really glad to have her back.”