By KEILA SZPALLER
Photo: Relatives of the family involved in a fatal crash on Interstate 90 near the Rock Creek Lodge early Sunday morning have put out a plea for the return of Bella, a dog that fled. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office urges anyone who sees Bella to call 9-1-1
CLINTON – Please leave Bella alone so she can go home safely.
That’s the advice from Vivian Dahlin, the dog trapper on the lookout for the pointy-eared canine on the run since a fatal crash in Clinton earlier this month. Dahlin, from Washington, said she’s an optimist, so she anticipates having Bella the dog safe in hand by Friday morning.
Either way, though, she’d like the public to steer clear of the pooch.
“People have the best interests at heart,” said Dahlin, of Operation Dog Rescue. “People will say, ‘what’s the problem with catching this dog? Just call to it, throw it a biscuit, and put a leash on it.’ (But) it’s not as easy as that.”
Earlier this month, the driver of a pickup truck going the wrong way on Interstate 90 smashed into a Honda carrying a family going to Yellowstone National Park, killing the driver of the pickup and a boy in the car.
Bella is beloved by 5-year-old Eli Gamble, a survivor in the crash. Charlotte Gamble, his mom, and her partner, Dan Klabunde, also survived, but Jacob Gamble, 8, died, as did Daniel Martin, the pickup driver.
The wreck frightened Bella, and she ran off, and it also made some people in Clinton feel helpless. To do what they can to help, folks there have been trying to find Bella to return her to the family.
Dani Curliss has been leading the effort in Clinton, launching a Facebook page called “Finding Bella Dog,” for one. Two states away on the coast, a friend sent Dahlin the story about Bella, and Dahlin contacted Curliss and asked Curliss if the family wanted her to help.
They said yes, and this week, Dahlin arrived at the scene. She’s confident of her chances of trapping Bella since people continue to report sightings, and Bella was spotted even the previous evening.
“If the dog is staying in an area and … is being seen by people, my success rate is really good,” said Dahlin, who also does border collie rescue.
Dahlin, a retired law enforcement officer, said she counts 13 successful captures and two unsuccessful ones, where the dog was in the area but couldn’t be trapped. She started trapping in 2008.
The reason she doesn’t want people to call or chase Bella themselves is because the pup may spook, and if she runs and extends her territory, the search goes back to square one. Currently, Dahlin has a good idea of the area Bella is traveling, and she’s setting up the trap in the middle of it.
According to her website, operationdogrescue.com, Dahlin often uses a Collarum trap to capture dogs. However, she did not want to discuss the trap she was setting up because if used unsupervised, “it can be lethal.”
So she said she doesn’t leave a trap unattended. On Thursday, Dahlin planned to have barbecued ribs at the Curliss residence, and she hopes to share some leftovers with Bella.
“I’m going to use a meaty rib bone for bait,” she said.
Because she lives in western Washington, Dahlin plans to return Bella to her Seattle owners herself unless the family prefers to fly Bella through Pilots N Paws.
“This dog is going to be an extreme flight risk for a while, and I have good experience with flight risk dogs, keeping them safe, ” Dahlin said. “ … And I’d like to meet the family anyway.”
Operation Dog Rescue is based in Ocean Shores, Wash., and it’s billed online as an all-volunteer organization. The cost of trapping a dog depends on the distance Dahlin has to travel, so it can be as low as free close to home or run as much as $1,000 for a week in British Columbia.
“There are so many dogs that go missing, and people struggle to find them on their own,” Dahlin said.
Read more: Missoulian