There he was, covered with cuts and scrapes, as though he'd been in fights, but otherwise healthy.

"I had my four-legged son back," recalls McKenzie. She later recounted the case on "Justice With Judge Janine," a national cable TV program.

The Schennings feel as though they've lost a family member. They got Bella in 2001, during a period when Sherrie Schenning's daughter, Chantelle, now 22, was being bullied at school.

The Yorkie "became my comfort and my little shadow," Chantelle says. The tiny dog always licked her face when she was ill, and continued to sleep with her.

"I don't even want to think about what might be happening to her," she says, tears welling in her eyes.

A few days after Bella vanished, Wills and Heidi tracked her scent to the edge of the yard, where the trail abruptly ended.

Since then, Chantelle has posted more than 1,000 fliers, made robocalls through FindToto.com, contacted schools, police stations and pet stores, offered a reward and made it known she'll accept Bella back "no questions asked."

Wills says she'll be returning with Heidi to search again.

"We're ratcheting up the pressure," she says.

In the meantime, the Schennings are having trouble sleeping at night.

"Who'd have thought someone would take your dog?" Chantelle says. "If we'd known this was happening, we'd have been more careful. I had no idea people could be so cruel."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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