An animal odd couple that has captivated the mainstream media and has become a YouTube sensation thanks to a CBS News clip scoring three million-plus hits will soon star in a picture book. In September, Putnam will publish Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends. Text and photos by Carol Buckley document the friendship between this elephant, the first resident at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., and a stray dog that later came to live there. Buckley, who founded the sanctuary in 1995, will donate her portion of the proceeds to the refuge.
Like the tale of the bond between the giant tortoise and baby hippo chronicled in Owen & Mzee, this animal friendship entails heartrending particulars. While subsequent elephants arriving at the sanctuary paired up with other pachyderms, Tarra roamed the refuge on her own, until one morning she awoke to find Bella, a stray dog, lying next to her. After forging an immediate friendship, the two became inseparable, eating, playing and sleeping side-by-side. After Bella suffered a spinal cord injury and was recovering indoors, the elephant stood vigil outside the building for three weeks and gently patted the dog’s tummy with her foot when sanctuary employees carried Bella outside to visit her.
John Rudolph, executive editor of Putnam Books for Young Readers, outbid several other publishers to acquire the book from Buckley’s agents, Tina Wexler and Andrea Barzvi of ICM. "When I saw the proposal, I was actually one of the few people here who hadn’t seen the YouTube clip," he says. "But as soon as I saw it, I knew this story would make an amazing book, and everyone who saw it in-house agreed it was a fantastic project."
Rudolph acquired the book in March and the house had it ready to go to the printer by May. "We knew we wanted to get this book out fast, given the popularity of the video and the media interest in the story, which was also featured on Oprah and in People," he says. Buckley, who earlier published Just for Elephants and Travels with Tarra with Tilbury House, had no problem meeting the deadline. "She said she’d be able to pull the text and photos together in time, and she did," Rudolph says.
Buckley will make media appearances to promote Tarra & Bella, which has a 50,000-copy first print run on order.
Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends. Carol Buckley. Putnam, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-399-25443-7