When elephants retire, many head for the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee www.elephants.com
They arrive one by one, but they tend to live out their lives two-by-two.
"Every elephant that comes here searches out someone that she then spends most all of her time with," says sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley. It's like having a best girlfriend, Buckley says — "Somebody they can relate to, they have something in common with."
Debbie has Ronnie. Misty can't live without Dulary. Those are pachyderm-pachyderm pairs. But perhaps the closest friends of all are Tarra and Bella.
That would be Tarra the 8,700 pound Asian elephant. And Bella. The dog. "This is her friend," Buckley says, scratching Bella's tummy. "Her friend just happens to be a dog and not an elephant."
"Bella knows she's not an elephant. Tarra knows she's not a dog," Buckley adds. "But that's not a problem for them."
Bella is one of more than a dozen stray dogs that have found a home at the sanctuary. Most want nothing to do with the elephants and vice versa. But not this odd couple. "When it's time to eat they both eat together. They drink together. They sleep together. They play together," Buckley says.
Tarra and Bella have been close for years — but no one really knew how close they were until recently. A few months ago Bella suffered a spinal cord injury. She couldn't move her legs, couldn't even wag her tail. For three weeks the dog lay motionless up in the sanctuary office.
And for three weeks the elephant held vigil: 2,700 acres to roam free, and Tarra just stood in the corner, beside a gate, right outside that sanctuary office. "She just stood outside the balcony — just stood there and waited," says Buckley. "She was concerned about her friend."
Then one day, sanctuary co-founder Scott Blais carried Bella onto the balcony so she and Tarra could at least see each other. "Bella's tail started wagging. And we had no choice but bring Bella down to see Tarra," Blais says.
They visited like that every day until Tarra could walk. Today, their love — and trust — is stronger than ever. Bella even lets Tarra pet her tummy — with the bottom of her enormous foot.
If they can do it — what's our excuse?
It's the last thing you'd expect to see emerging from the woods of Tennessee — the last two things actually. Which is why CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman knew the story of Bella and Tarra would be big. He just had no idea how big. "Tarra and Bella have agents now?" Hartman asked.
"It's all your fault," said Scott Blais, a cofounder of The Elephant Sanctuary. "It is all your fault," agreed Carol Buckley, the other cofounder. Buckley and Blais run The Elephant Sanctuary outside of Nashville. "When that piece aired we were just bombarded with offers," Buckley said. "Books, movies, any number of things."
If you saw the original story, you know how elephants come here from zoos and circuses one by one — but stay here two by two. "Every elephant that comes here searches out someone that she then spends most of her time with," Buckley said.
Of course, it's always another elephant, with the notable exception of Tarra and a stray dog, who just wandered on the property, named Bella. "They drink together, they sleep together, they play together," Buckley said. And stay together — no matter what. When Bella got sick last year and had to live in the sanctuary office, guess who stood vigil? For three weeks, Tarra waited there.
The pair showed such devotion, such tenderness and trust, it was almost hard to believe. The whole story seemed like a Disney movie to a lot of people — including people at Disney.
"Disney called, they actually pitched the movie," Buckley said. Disney pitched a live action movie that would star Tara or another trained elephant. Buckley and Blais didn't have to think twice.
The answer was "No — It just goes against the core of who the sanctuary is," Blais said. "We don't want them to be in those environments where they're dominated and trained to perform for people," Buckley said.
Here at the sanctuary, they've got this crazy idea that animals — elephants especially —aren't just here to serve us. The honestly believe that some animals are here for the same reasons we are — to love and do for others, whether it's appreciated or not.
Videos of Tarra and Bella: www.youtube.com/user/elephantsanctuarytn
(Contributed by Jim, a long-time Inspiration Line
reader who lives in Galena, Illinois)