(Rapid City Journal, 12/19/2017)
How Bella the cat got to South Dakota we’re not exactly sure, but it’s a good bet her family will tell Bella’s story over the dinner table in the coming years.

Late in November, Bella was found in Box Elder and brought to the Humane Society as a stray. That alone isn’t remarkable — after all, we’ve taken in about 1,400 stray cats so far this year. But Bella was 1,700 miles from her last known home, and, because she had an inexpensive microchip, today she is back with her family.

Bella’s story starts with her family, who got the cat when they lived in Kansas. They later moved to Georgia and, with a baby on the way, made the decision to give Bella to a family in Georgia.

That was eight months ago.

Just a few weeks ago, Bella was brought to the Humane Society where Erin, like she has done hundreds of times this year, scanned the cat for a microchip. Fortunately, Bella had one. Erin gathered the contact information from the microchip database and called the family to tell them Bella was picked up as a stray in Rapid City.

“It was mind blowing,” Bella’s previous owner said from Georgia. “I was concerned. I don’t know if she’d been living on the street. I was concerned for her health and wellbeing.”

A microchip is about the best way for the Humane Society of the Black Hills to identify an animal’s owners. The chip itself is a minor miracle in electronic identification: it’s small, about the size of a grain of rice; it’s implanted just under the skin; and, the microchip number is recorded in a registry with information about the animal and the owners so wherever the chip is scanned, the information can be retrieved.

The previous owner isn’t really sure how Bella got to South Dakota. Actually, he has no idea. The family that took Bella in Georgia wasn’t military, meaning there was no connection to the Air Force base here, and they couldn’t be contacted, so Bella’s adventures from Georgia to South Dakota will remain unknown.

And while the previous owner in Georgia did try to contact the people that had taken the cat, and gave the Humane Society time to do the same, he kept in touch with Caitlyn and Erin at the Humane Society because he didn’t want Bella to be placed in adoption as a stray.

“It’s refreshing to have someone so passionate to get their animal back,” Caitlyn said. “I’ve never seen anyone put in so much work.”

Work and money. Just recently, the previous owners in Georgia paid to fly Bella from Rapid City Regional Airport home to Georgia.

Today Bella is back with her family and doing fine, showing no signs of distress from her ordeal in South Dakota. Well … the previous owner said she will need to relearn one former skill: pooping on the toilet.

“I’ve always been proud to brag about that,” Bella’s former owner said.

While Bella is being retrained to use the toilet, she is getting plenty of love, and has a travel experience even her busy, active family hasn’t had — a trip to Rapid City, South Dakota.

Bella’s story could have ended on an entirely different note if she didn’t have two things: a microchip, and a family who wanted her back.

“When I found out she was homeless I felt a certain responsibility to be sure she was OK,” Bella’s former owner said. “I didn’t want her to be a stray out there in the world.”

Good news for Bella, she’s not.

By Jerry Steinley, Resource Development Director