SIMI VALLEY Fifteen years ago, Deresa Teller first laid eyes on a little border collie named Bella. “She was only eight days old, and I fell in love with her right then and there,” Teller said. “Who would have known what a wonderful and amazing life she was going to have.” In 2002, Bella was inducted into the California Veterinary Medical Association’s Hall of Fame for her heroic efforts finding victims buried in the rubble of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. Now Teller, a Los Angeles Fire Department inspector from Simi Valley, is planning a memorial for her beloved dog, who died last month from various ailments attributed to old age. Wilma Melville, the founder of the Search Dog Foundation in Ojai, has known Teller and Bella for years and was with them in Oklahoma City. “Bella came along at a time when people didn’t know how much dogs could do,” Melville said. “Bella was a leader among dogs.” Bella’s reputation grew as she worked alongside Teller responding to disasters. When the dog was diagnosed with cancer in January 2001, so many people from around the nation contributed money that Teller was able to pay off thousands of dollars for treatment and establish a Bella fund to help pay medical bills of other search dogs. As soon as Bella’s cancer treatment was completed, she was put to work in August 2001 with about 400 people searching for Megan Barroso of Moorpark, who went missing while driving home from a friend’s house. Bella found the 20-year-old’s body in a ravine south of the Santa Susana Knolls, a discovery that helped lead to the conviction of her killer, Vincent Sanchez, known as the Simi Valley Rapist. In spite of flight restrictions on the night of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, Bella was flown to New York City to search the rubble of the twin towers. Despite what Teller called heart-wrenching work, Bella’s ability to find victims helped bring closure to dozens of families. With tears in her eyes, Teller described Bella’s gentle nature with children, including Teller’s two daughters, now 17 and 14. “She loved people and she loved baby animals,” Teller said, explaining how Bella would act like a guardian angel to people who needed support. “She could tell if someone was really hurting. It was uncanny. She had a sixth sense about people who needed extra comforting.” When Bella retired as a search dog in 2003, one of her favorite activities was herding baby chicks. When she lay down to sleep, the chickens would climb on her back. Teller is hoping a memorial for Bella can be held soon, possibly late this month or in May. “Have fun herding your chickens in the sky,” she wrote in a message to Bella that she is preparing for the memorial. “Bella was my student, but even more than that, she was my teacher,” Teller said. “She taught me that with patience, love, faith and some good old squeaky toys she could become one heck of a wonder dog.” Before she died, Bella developed vestibular syndrome with symptoms such as a stroke and also developed liver and kidney diseases, all apparently related to old age, Teller said. She was having trouble walking and finally, in March, she collapsed and could no longer stand. “I kissed her and I petted her,” Teller said. “I told Bella I loved her a lot, and I told her it was OK for her to go.” People with inquiries about the date of the memorial can e-mail Teller at [email protected] [email protected] (805) 583-7602160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!