Bella - Her story
from South Africa
Submitted by Juanita Hobbs
Johannesburg, South Africa, has become known, in recent times, as the crime
capital of the world.
Monday, 20 October, 1997, drove this fact home amongst Staffordshire Bull
Terriers across the globe. This was the day that Bella was killed
defending her mistress from an attempted armed hijacking.
Nicole Russell was standing near her garage at 8:00 am, about to leave for
work, when she heard the squeal of tyres. Her first thought when she
saw the silver-grey car was that it was someone looking for directions.
"As I looked up, all four of the car's doors opened and four armed men
jumped out of the car and started running towards me," she said.
"The leader told me to hand over my car keys and not to make any
noise. I did exactly what I was told. I didn't make a sound. I had read
somewhere that it was important to stay calm when confronted by
hijackers, so I just held out both my arms so they could take my keys
and remove my jewellery."
In the confusion Nicole didn't realise she had handed them her house keys
instead of her ar keys, and while one of the men battled to remove her
steering lock, another started ripping off her jewellery.
"I could see they were nervous," she said. "The man in my
car kept yelling that the lock wouldn't open. Then one of the hijackers
grabbed me by the arm and began pulling me towards their car."
"It was then that I started screaming. They became very aggressive and
one of them hit me in the face with the butt of his gun, but at the
time I barely felt the blow."
Alerted by her daughter's screams, Dawn Russell pressed a panic button in
the house and rushed into the garden, but when she tried to go to
Nicole's aid, she was attacked with a knife. It was then that Bella,
the family's four year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, came to the
Bella, who had followed Dawn into the garden, lunged at the man with the
knife, managing to bite him several times on the legs before being shot
in the head. Despite her injury, Bella continued the attack, until the
men panicked and fled. At one point, after having fired the shot at
Bella, the same hijacker pointed his gun at Nicole and pulled the
trigger. There was an empty click. Whether the chamber was empty or whether
the gun had simply misfired, we will never know. In any event, Bella had taken
the bullet for Nicole.
A shocked and emotional Nicole recalled the incident.
"I remember everything as if it was in slow motion. One of the men
looked at me and then slowly pointed the gun at Bella and pulled the
"After the men fled, Bella just sat down and rolled over. I went and
held her. At first there was no blood. She just lay there quietly,
looking at me."
A few minutes later Bella died.
During the autopsy performed to extract the bullet from Bella's body, it
was found that her heart was completely devoid of blood. She had fought
so hard and so courageously that there wasn't a drop of blood left in
The story of Bella's valiant effort to save her owner captured the hearts
of the Johannesburg public, and of Stafford fans all over the world.
The Russells were swamped with messages of condolence and breeders from
as far afield as Cape Town offered to give them a new puppy.
"You can't imagine how much we miss her," said Nicole. "She
was one of the family. I would always give Bella the milk from my
cereal or the uneaten crust from my toast when my mother wasn't
looking, because she didn't want us feeding her at the table. At breakfast
the morning after Bella's death I almost called her for her milk, and then it suddenly
struck me that she wasn't there to give it to."
Like most proud animal owners, Nicole remembers all Bella's quirky traits,
like her habit of yapping or biting the air if she felt the family were
not giving her enough attention, or her never-ending fascination with
chasing the neighbour's cat.
"We named her Bella, which means beautiful, because an Italian
gentleman used to say that to me and it seemed appropriate for
her," said Nicole.
"My father is devastated by her loss. Bella used to sit in the crook
of his arm and watch television every night. When she was spayed at six
months, my dad cried for days."
This was not the first time Bella had risked her life to save the family.
She had been stabbed three months before by an intruder. Nicole's
father, Des, noticed the stab wound in Bella's back when he tried to
pick her up that evening.
Bella is buried at the Booysens Animal Cemetery. Nicole provided the
wording for Bella's headstone. "Bella, May 1993 - October 1997.
Greater love hath no dog than this, that she should lay down her life
for her master."
Bella was honoured posthumously by the SPCA. Tributes and stories about
Bella were carried in every major newspaper in South Africa. Helen
Park, owner of the Stafford E-mail List and the on-line magazine, The
International Stafford, published a new page dedicated to Bella.
Helen said, "This is what the magazine is all about: to bring Stafford
fanciers from all over the world together, to keep them aware of what
is going on with the breed in all the world's corners."
"And, perhaps most importantly, to present to all the world the truth
about our beloved and giving Staffords: present them as we know them to
be - and not as the media would portray them - for then those like
Bella shall not have died in vain."
"As Juanita said, "She was a good 'un." This says it all.
Hug your Staffords close tonight, everyone. And remember Bella, who
On Saturday 8 November 1997, the Pretoria Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club
and Graeme Stewart, representing the Stafford e-mail List, presented
Nicole, the victim, and Lee, Bella's owner, with awards in Bella's
Graeme's award was a framed collection of all the messages of condolence
that were received from the Stafford List.
When Graeme made the presentation to Nicole and Lee, he said, "As a
member of an international e-mail list dedicated to Staffy Lovers
around the world, I was saddened when I heard and read about the
terrible events that had happened to Nicole, Bella and their family,
"The list that I have mentioned is one that allows the exchange of
ideas or views with others around the world instantly. I immediately
submitted a transcript of the newspaper story to the list. This would
then have been relayed to all the Staffy-loving members. I had
requested that if anyone would like to send a message to the Russell family,
they could via a reply to myself."
"The responses I received have come from as far a field as Karen Dawes
of San Diego, California, to Susan, Wendy and 4 year old Lottie (a
Staffy in Sydney, Australia)."
"A message was also received from George Teker and Bruno. Bruno is the
1997 SPCA Dog of the Year. An award he received for helping George's
mother after she had suffered a paralyzing stroke."
"Of the many messages received, I think the following, is a perfect
tribute to a dog with the courage of Bella. Steve Stone, from Mayhill,
New Mexico, wrote: I quote "Bella epitomized
all that is good and true in the Stafford. She was game, she was the genuine article,
and no greater praise can be given to any dog. I would rather have one Bella
in my lifetime than a baker's dozen of CC
and BIS winners who would not do what she did. In
my personal Stafford opinion, she ranks alongside another great South African Staffordshire
Bull Terrier - Jock of the Bushveld. Not long ago, someone posted this question
to the list: Where are today's great Staffordshire Bull Terriers? Bella has
just answered that question."
End of quote."
"On behalf of the International Stafford List, who, I know, are all
here this evening in spirit, I would like to present these messages to
Nicole and her sister Lee who owned and loved - Bella."
Graeme later said, "The award was the grand finale and I think on
behalf of Juanita Hobbs and myself, we were faced with one of the most
emotional moments of our lives! Juanita, for the Pretoria Stafford
Club, presented a seven ring rosette and a shield and I presented all
the messages of condolence to the family. A standing ovation was given to Bella,
when Nicole and Lee Russell received the award on her behalf. The entire audience
of more than 100 Stafford fans, had tears running down their faces."
The Russell family wrote to both Graeme Stewart and the Pretoria Stafford
Club after the ceremony as follows:
We just wanted to thank you once again for
the very touching tribute paid to
Bella on Saturday evening.
The framed e-mail messages were so
heart-warming. It would be great
to say thank you to everyone who sent these messages,
but unfortunately we do not have an e-mail facility, but
should there be a possibility we'd love to send our thanks to
one and all.
These messages along with so many other well
wishes have helped to
soften the hurt we feel after losing Bella so brutally."
We would just like to say thanks once again
to you and the Pretoria
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club for the most touching tribute
paid to Bella at your annual prize
It is almost impossible to express our
appreciation, we were so
overwhelmed by the warm and compassionate responses from
people far and wide, but the e-mail messages we received
from Graeme Stewart were unbelievable.
We didn't realise that our little Bella would
stir up such a storm world wide,
and knowing that people feel so strongly about
an animal of this calibre makes the hurt we feel at her loss
a lot easier to work through."
Even months after Bella's death, conversations about her are still being
conducted across the World Wide Web. One such example is that written
by Magnus Palsson, a Stafford breeder from Sweden, who wrote:
"The story of Bella is very touching and
it's hard to keep one's eyes from
I've read what you wrote about her and her
breeding. Bella is obviously a
showbred dog and, still, she proved very useful in a rough situation.
Now, that speaks highly for her breeding but it really says nothing
about "showbred" dogs in general. Please notice that both "Betchgreen"
and "Belnite" have a good reputation also among "working"
I've had both "show stock" and the
other sort. Basically, I've found the
other sort to be more useful, BUT, it's still a question of the quality
of the individual dog.
So - if someone tells me that all "show
bred" dogs are useless, I'll laugh
in their face, but, on the other hand, if someone tells me that all "show
bred" dogs will act like Bella, I'll laugh in their face as
We are pleased to report that the Russell's have accepted a new Staffy pup
and have named their new baby, Chloe. Bella will NEVER be forgotten and
the attention she received across the planet has helped immeasurably to
spread the word about man's greatest best friend - the Staffordshire
Juanita Hobbs' words, on presenting the citation to Bella from the Pretoria
Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club, sum it all up:
"Your Bella lost her life
displaying the true and special Stafford temperament
that makes our Breed so unique. Bella's heroism
has earned her a
memorable place in history."
"The Pretoria Staffordshire
Bull Terrier Club is honoured to decorate
Bella with this special award for extreme bravery and courage.
Bella was truly - BOLD,
FEARLESS and TOTALLY
Pretoria Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club
The Russell Family
The Stafford List