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A Christmas miracle: The search for Bella the dog ends with a rescue

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Bella, the missing dog, after she was found Thursday night in McLean. That's about 15 miles southwest of Bloomington-Normal.

The frigid four-day search for a lost dog who wandered many miles across McLean County found its happy ending Thursday night – and the dog got a warm bath and some chicken nuggets.

Bella, a Bernese Mountain Dog, escaped from her new foster home in Bloomington on Sunday night. There were Bella sightings – like Bigfoot – throughout the week as informal search parties looked for her and shared her story on social media. She was spotted Tuesday in rural McLean, about 15 miles southwest of Bloomington-Normal. But she kept evading capture by a friendly rescue team, who set traps for her Wednesday – and ended up catching all sorts of dogs who weren’t Bella.

“This dog (Bella) was just not staying put. She was continuously moving,” said Jean Ann Hert of rural McLean, who runs Ruby's Rescue & Retreat and was part of the Bella search team. “She did a lot of running. I think a lot of people had her scared and running.”

Hert and the other searchers got scared too, as a winter storm arrived Thursday with Bella still on the run. Wind chills are expected to dip to near 40 below zero overnight. That could be fatal.

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Bella, the missing Bernese Mountain Dog, after her warm bath and chicken nuggets on Thursday night.

They suspended the search Thursday afternoon. But on Thursday night, they got a tip: Bella had been spotted at a mulch plant outside McLean.

“There’s no question. When there’s a dog in need, you just go,” said Karry Rich, a Bella search crew leader from Atlanta, Ill., who works for Pet Central Helps, a Bloomington-based rescue.

They eventually cornered Bella on Thursday night near a home in McLean. A search crew member who was driving a four-wheeler “football tackled” Bella and finally corralled her. Rich and Hert call him a hero.

“She had icicles on her face. She just looked frozen. She’s exhausted. She’s been running since Sunday in this weather, which was just getting colder and colder,” Hert said. “I’m glad she’s safe, because we would’ve worried about her all night, as cold as it is.”

Rich took Bella back to her house, where she was given a warm bath and some chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. Rich said she's doing well. The Peoria-based Pet Pack rescue, which placed her in the foster home after she was released by a breeder, is expected to come and pick her up sometime Friday, Rich said.

Rich said Bella’s story “just shows you that people who love animals can come together and work together. And it’s not like a competition. We’re just about the animals and making sure they’re safe and healthy.”

“She’s welcome to stay here as long as she wants. She’s a little angel,” she said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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