Tarra and Bella: Friends to the End

By: Steve Hartman, CBS News
By: Steve Hartman, CBS News

NEAR NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Elephant Sanctuary south of Nashville is more than 2-thousand acres of elephreedom. But for this resident, named Tarra -- there's not enough room in Tennessee to escape the bad news she got last week.

"Certainly her whole demeanor changed."

Rob Atkinson is the Sanctuary CEO. "She became more reserved, quieter, she was depressed."

All the symptoms you'd expect to see in someone who lost a good friend -- which is exactly what happened. For nearly a decade, Tarra had been best friends with a dog named Bella -- a mutt who wandered onto the sanctuary grounds and into the heart of this gentle giant.

Tara clearly loved her little dog...and Bella obviously bonded right back.

They were so close, in fact, that when Bella got injured a few years ago and had to spend three weeks recuperating in the Sanctuary Office, guess who held vigil the entire time? 22-hundred acres to roam free, and Tarra just stood in the corner - waiting. The home video of their reunion shows how inseparable they'd become -- and remained, right to the end.

Last week, sanctuary workers found Bella's body. By all indications she'd been attacked by coyotes. Whether Tarra witnessed it - tried to intervene - was too late - no one knows. All they do know is that where they found Bella…

"Right there.. it's not where she got attacked."

Director of elephant husbandry, Steve Smith: "Looked around and saw there was no signs of an attack here - no blood, no tuffs of hair, nothing. And Tarra, on the underside of her trunk, had blood - like she picked up the body. Steve Hartman: Tarra moved her? Steve Smith: Tarra moved her. Pretty amazing."

Why here? Steve's theory is Tarra carried Bella -- possibly a mile or more - to bring her home. Whether it really happened that way or not, no one doubts Tarra was that devoted.

"There's nothing we can do to take away her pain. The only ones who can help now are the elephants. And that is already happening, (that happened almost immediately after Bella's death.) Steve: So the other elephants are stepping in? Rob: They're stepping in and they're stepping up."

He says they're spending more time with Tarra and being extra nice - making gestures like giving her a portion of their food.

Of course, anyone who's lost a dog knows you can't eat your way out of the grief - as much we might try -- but still nice to know at least Tarra's not alone in this.

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