8 years later, squirrel still visits Upstate family that rescued, released her

(Source: WYFF)
(Source: WYFF)
(Source: WYFF)
(Source: WYFF)
(Source: WYFF)
(Source: WYFF)

GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WYFF) - A squirrel who nearly died when she was attacked by an owl eight years ago continues to visit the Greenville County family that took her in, raised her and released her.

Brantley Harrison and her family help rehabilitate rescued animals, but the squirrel they took in when she was 4 weeks old has formed a unique bond with them, unlike any of their other rescues.

The baby squirrel was attacked by an owl in October 2009 and left very badly injured. There was no way she could have survived in the wild with her injuries. A wildlife rescue group found her, took her in and then placed her with Harrison and her family.

The squirrel they named Bella wasn't old enough to be released back into the wild before winter's arrival, so she stayed with Harrison and her family until spring. They raised her along with three other squirrels, Larry, Moe, and Curly.

The four little squirrels were fed formula, fruits, veggies and lots of nuts while they lived together in an outdoor release cage.

Harrison said while Bella was being rehabilitated, there didn't appear to be anything particularly special about her. They did not treat her like a pet, and she acted just like every other squirrel they had cared for, so Harrison figured once she was released Bella back into the wild, that would be the last they'd see of her.

By April 2010, Bella and the three other squirrels were ready for release. Once they were let go, they scurried excitedly up and down trees, exploring their new surroundings. Within a week, all four squirrels were safely assimilated back into the wild.

But Bella wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to the family that had raised her.

Harrison said Bella started coming back looking for treats within days of being released. She said the others came back for a few days, too, which is typical, but within a week or so, they stop coming by and avoid people. But not Bella.

"Bella sits right at the front door waiting for someone to notice she has come by for a visit," Harrison said. "She has even resorted to jumping over to the dining room window to peer in for someone to see her."

Harrison said Bella doesn't really like to be petted, but she happily sits on their laps and eats lots of nuts. Harrison's husband, John, often comes back in after heading out to work, just to grab a few walnuts for Bella who is waiting at the door.

"She comes almost daily for a little loving, treats, and to torment our dog, Cid, through the glass door," Harrison said.

Bella is quite photogenic, and has plenty of fans on social media, with even more these days, after her story was featured by The Dodo.

"Just recently I have started putting hats on her for photos, and I can't believe she lets me do it," Harrison said. (Video of Bella modeling a sombrero above on this page.)

Harrison says Bella has become a member of the family, and a few years back, her human family got to meet her squirrel family for the first time.

Bella injured her foot a few years ago, so the family caught her again, gave her antibiotics and put her back in one of the rehab cages so she could heal. She was almost ready to be released back into the wild when one day, she gave birth to three tiny babies, so her human family cared for the little squirrel family until the babies were old enough to be released.

Harrison said it was amazing to watch a baby she raised raise babies of her own.

"She is a very special squirrel and has always had a large local following. She has changed the way many of my friends think of squirrels, especially the ones she has met. The kids just love to come over and feed her."

Harrison believes besides being a delight to her family, Bella has a special purpose.

"If Bella can teach at least one person to have compassion for all living things, no matter how big or how small, then we have done what we have set out to."

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