REMEMBERING BELLA: Law enforcement, families gather to say goodbye to long-serving K9

Published 9:23 am Monday, July 31, 2023

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For over 12 years, Covington County law enforcement had a true star in the fight against illegal drugs. On Tuesday, July 25, that star, who went by the name Bella, was honored during a memorial service.

Bella, a K9 unit, passed away on July 20 and was laid to rest at the home of her most recent handler, Jonathan Pitts of the Covington County Sheriff’s Office.

A group of law enforcement officers and family members who knew Bella gathered to share stories about the K9 who, over the years, worked in Florala, Opp and most recently with the Covington County Sheriff’s Office.

Bella was described as being both a friendly pet to those who housed her, but was always eager to go “to work.” Her latest handler, Joey Pitts, said Bella’s efforts easily surpassed the $2-million mark in terms of seized drugs.

Bella was trained by Sgt. Ronnie Hurst and her first handler was Paul Adams with the Florala Police Department. She was certified as a K9 unit in 2013.

“One of the most amazing aspects of Bella was that she loved people and people loved her,” said Tammy Adams, mother of the late Paul Adams. “As a toddler, Warren Russell, Paul’s son, would sit on her, pull her tail, pull up her eyelids and Bella never flinched. She played with the kids just as a beloved family pet, but she never went off duty. The same with Paul, Bella never let him out of her sight but she never made anyone feel there was a zone we had to stay out of nor was there ever any fear of her unlike some other K9s. She detected the difference between good and bad without any commands.”

After the passing of Paul Adams, Bella moved into the Adams’ home, but the family came to realize that was not the life for a dog wanting to go to work. In 2016, the family worked out a plan for Bella to get back on the job with the Opp Police Department where her efforts quickly earned her the nickname, Sgt. Bella.

In Opp, Bella was partnered with handler Mitch Schofield. The duo made several arrests and seized drugs that made front-page news.

Schofield would later be called to active military leader, which led Bella to her most recent handler, Jonathan Pitts of the Covington County Sheriff’s Office.

“I immediately knew there was something special about (Bella),” Pitts said. “She worked hard and took thousands and thousands of dollars in drugs off the street. I’ll never forget my first trafficking case with Bella. We stopped a guy in River Falls for an illegal U-turn. Bella went to work and located 60 grams of methamphetamine that was on its way to Ft. Walton Beach. There will never be another Bella. She was the best partner and friend a guy could have and I’m proud to have served by her side.”

Covington County Sheriff Blake Turman said Bella was a special K9, but that her three handlers over the years had a lot to do with her success.

“I understand that Bella became friends to the handlers and their families, but one thing Bella always did was work. When it was time to go to work, she went to work. You can throw out stats, but the bottom line is that she was a working dog. One reason for that is her handlers. They are to commended just as much as Bella. The handlers were extraordinary in their own right. They let her do her job. Maybe one day we will find a dog that comes close to her,” Turman said.

Tammy Adams said serving as a K9 seemed to be the perfect life for Bella.

“While many have put a street value on her in the past — we were offered $8,000 to $10,000, then $15,000 to $20,000, and the State of Florida asked us to name our price — Bella was never for sale. In our hearts we knew she was priceless and deserved better — a good home and a job is all she wanted. I believe Bella is reunited with Paul and they are having an endless game of fetch together,” Adams said.

Bella officially — perhaps reluctantly — retired about a year ago and remained with the Pitts family until her death last week. Even in that final year, Bella was ready to go to work, perking up whenever she caught the faint sound of sirens in the distance.