Sightings continue for dog missing since April 2012

Published Jul 3, 2013 at 12:58 pm (Updated Jul 3, 2013 at 12:58 pm)

What should have been a routine trip to the vet has turned into a 15-month harrowing ordeal for one Bethel Park family.

In April 2012, Garrett and Jennifer Garfold loaded their dog, Bella, into their car and headed to Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic on East McMurray Road in Peters Township. They had an appointment to have a micro-chip implanted into the almost 2-year-old black lab mix as a precaution should the dog ever wander away from their Bethel Park home.

But, before they could enter the vet’s office, Bella slipped out of her collar and took off running.

“We searched for her non-stop the first few weeks, putting signs everywhere, putting her all over Peters Patch, Craigslist. We placed ads in The Almanac, the Post-Gazette, notified police, animal shelters, local stores, pet stores, et cetera. You name it, we did it to get the word out,” said Jennifer.

The couple rescued Bella from the Lawrence County Humane Society shortly after they married in 2010. They were looking for a playmate for their dog, Cassie, a border collie/lab mix.

“Garrett was looking on Petfinder and said, ‘How about this dog? It says she is about 12 months old.’” One look at her photo and they both fell in love. So Garrett and his father drove to the shelter to look at the dog. A little while later, Jennifer received a phone call from Garrett saying, “This pup is 12 weeks, not 12 months!”

Adding a puppy to the mix was quite an adjustment for the couple who, in addition to their dog, Cassie, also had a 16-month-old son, Landen, to care for. But, Bella became “a huge part of our lives,” said Jennifer. “Bella is a very kind, friendly dog. She loved having someone throw her a ball in our fenced-in back yard.”

Since then, the black lab mix has been spotted numerous times throughout the South Hills. “We had leads all the time the first few months after she went missing, and we continue to get sporadic calls,” said Jennifer, adding that they have not lost hope and follow up on every lead they receive. The dog has been seen on and off the trail, from Peters all the way into Bethel Park. “Last summer, she was seen around Rocky Ridge Road and on surrounding streets. Two months ago, someone saw her by St. Louise Church and most recently, along Irishtown Road.”

At this point, Jennifer feels Bella is just scared, as any dog would be after being on its own for such a long period of time. But, she said Bella has not shown aggression towards any of her spotters. “When people see her and try to approach her, she runs off into the woods.” That, Jennifer said, is their biggest challenge, but added, “Due to her youth, athleticism and breed, we feel she is incredibly resourceful and living on small game and garbage.”

Jennifer and Garrett have been working with several different rescue groups and even have the support of the Allegheny County Dog Warden, Steve Stoehr, and his wife, Shirl. The Garfolds have gone above and beyond, even setting up feeding stations as well as game cameras in areas where they have a positive lead. “We are hopeful that we can learn her patterns and routine, and eventually trap her or lead her to a secure area.”

Rescue groups have advised that anyone spotting Bella not run after the dog. “We are asking anyone who spots Bella to call and tell us where and which way she was headed,” explained Jennifer. “We can’t ignore any tip given to us.”

The couple, who in addition to 2 ½ year old Landen, have since added another child, 3-month-old Tanner, to their family, continues to be amazed at the number of strangers willing to bring their dog home to them safely.

“Our family would like to thank the people who have helped us this past year, trying to bring Bella home – complete strangers who we now call friends,” remarked Jennifer. “Their time, effort and never giving up has truly been remarkable. Some might say ‘It’s just a dog,’ but to us, a home is not a home without a dog. Bella is part of our family. I know she’s still out there.”

The couple has created a Facebook page titled “Bring Bella Home.” They ask that anyone who spots a dog resembling Bella call or text them immediately at 412-523-8636.

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