- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Bella greeted strangers in the lobby of Benessere Animal Hospital eagerly on Wednesday, sniffing their outstretched hands as her tail wagged.

The 5-year-old chocolate Labrador’s demeanor had improved significantly since the week before, when she was transferred to the animal hospital to recoup after two teenagers used an aerosol can and a lighter to spray flames toward her body.

“When she got here she was cowering, head-shy, and walking close to the floor,” said Dr. Janine Oliver, who owns the animal hospital and is supervising Bella’s treatment. “Now she’ll respond to sweet talk. She starts wagging her whole body when you talk to her. She’s just the nicest dog, and she’s already come way, way out of her shell.”

The teenagers, a 13-year-old and 14-year-old whose names have not been released because they are minors, are facing criminal charges in the incident, which authorities say they filmed and posted to social media. Deputies with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office were alerted to the clip and opened an investigation that also led to Bella’s removal from her home, which Sheriff BJ Barnes said was “in the best interest of the animal.”

From there, Bella went to the Guilford County Animal Shelter, where she stayed for several days before being pulled by a volunteer with the Haley Graves Foundation, a Greensboro-based animal rescue. The foundation is paying for Bella’s care (the current running total is about $700) and has arranged for a long-term foster home for her, according to Tammy Graves, the nonprofit’s founder and director.

Bella will move to her foster home once she’s completed her medical treatment, most of it unrelated to the fire. Her brown fur still bears traces of yellowish paint, which is likely what the teenagers sprayed to ignite the flame, and some of the fur along her back is melted and singed, but none of her skin was burned.

But the Labrador lived with and trusted at least one of the teenagers, and the emotional trauma from that betrayal will take longer to heal, Oliver said.

“Fortunately the flame went out before it burned down to her skin, so there are no burns. It’s just her fur,” she said. “But she is emotionally traumatized.”

Bella has several unrelated medical issues, most likely stemming from improper care in her previous home, Oliver said. The skin on her belly and back legs is infected, which Oliver said is probably due to allergies. She’s also completing a course of antibiotics for a respiratory infection, after which she’ll be spayed.

But her singed fur does not require painful burn treatments, which will help her overall prognosis, Oliver said.

“She was definitely betrayed by somebody that she loved,” she said. “But I think that once she gets settled into wherever she’s going to be permanently, in a home that respects her as a sentient being, she’s going to do really well because she hasn’t had to go through wound care.”

When Bella’s care is finished - most likely this week - she’ll go to her long-term foster home. The foster family has experience with Labradors and has visited the hospital to begin bonding with Bella.

“They’re already coming and taking her for walks and getting to know her,” Oliver said. “She’s already very comfortable with them. She’s going to a really good place.”

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Information from: News & Record, https://www.news-record.com


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