The film starts with a small dog (Bryce Dallas Howard) narrating about her current home life. She is a puppy who lives with her pitbull mother and siblings, plus a cat and her kittens, underneath the ruins of an old house. They are found by two bad men, an animal control officer named Chuck (John Cassini) and his buddy Gunter. They cruelly take all the animals away and forcibly take the mother away, leaving the little dog alone with a couple of the cats who made it out safely.
The puppy spends some time being raised by the Mother Cat (as she calls her) before a teen named Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his friend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) show up to feed the kittens. The dog then runs out after hearing Lucas's voice and goes to him. Lucas immediately falls in love with the dog, but he and Olivia are told to leave by Gunter, who owns the property.
Lucas brings the dog home to his mom Terri (Ashley Judd), who is single and suffers from some form of depression. Although she likes the dog, she knows that there are no dogs allowed in their building. However, Terri agrees to take care of her, and they name the dog Bella.
Over the next couple of years, Bella grows attached to Lucas, doing what she thinks are games like "Don't Chew Shoes", "Squirrel Hunting" or "Do You Want a Tiiiiiiiny Piece of Cheese?" She is most fond of Lucas's blanket and is also fond of Terri and Olivia. However, Gunter shows up to stir trouble as he requests to Terri that Lucas stop interfering with his property since he doesn't think there are any cats that still live under the property, but Terri makes it clear that Lucas won't stop doing what he thinks is right and she tells Gunter to back off.
The landlord leaves a notice on Lucas and Terri's door to inform them that he is coming by the next day to check on the faucet, but they know they can't leave Bella home alone. They take her to work at a center for veterans suffering from PTSD, including Terri. Lucas hides Bella in the closet and tells her not to bark, but she does so anyway, which leads Lucas and Olivia to go take care of her. One of the employees, Teo (Patrick Gallagher), decides to bring Bella to the therapy session with the veterans, all of whom are immediately taken by her. She senses the sadness in some of the people and walks over to whomever she feels is most sad.
Lucas and Olivia find that Gunter has ordered a group of construction workers to tear out the ruins. The two argue that there are still cats down there, and Olivia makes a call to her friend that can revoke Gunter's permit. This is confirmed when the cats start running out, which Olivia records. The construction workers get a call about the permit. Gunter retaliates by calling Chuck and making a complaint about a dangerous animal. It turns out that pitbulls, which Bella is said to be, are illegal in Denver, and Chuck warns Lucas that he will take Bella in if she is seen on the streets.
Bella gets out of the house to chase a squirrel, and Lucas manages to find her on the streets. Unfortunately, so does Chuck, and he has two officers to back him up. Lucas orders Bella to go home, but she thinks that Lucas needs her and she stays. Chuck attempts to wrangle Bella with a hook collar, but Lucas won't give her up that way. The other officers make Chuck lose the collar, and Lucas gently puts Bella in the back of the truck. She is taken to the dog pound where she becomes lonely and scared as she waits for Lucas to come back. Lucas and Olivia later pay the fine to get Bella back, but they are told that if she is found again, she will be euthanized. Lucas resolves to take Bella away from Denver, so he and Terri decide to move to Golden, Colorado.
As the family makes preparations to move, Bella is taken to stay with Olivia's grandparents for the time being. They prepare to take her away, but Chuck is posted outside waiting to catch Bella. Terri gets in his truck and forces him to let Lucas say goodbye to Bella in peace, or she will cause bigger problems for Chuck, and he reluctantly agrees. Lucas tearfully bids Bella farewell, and she howls as she watches Lucas get farther and farther away.
Bella finds Olivia's grandparents to be friendly enough, but she still misses Lucas terribly. She sees Olivia's grandfather set up a slide by the fence, which Bella remembers as part of her game, "Snow Do Your Business". She runs up the slide and hops over the fence, running through the field and away from the home. As she runs by the streets, she is unaware that Lucas and Olivia are driving to go get her.
Bella gets lost and hungry. She comes across a park where other dogs are eating from the garbage. Their leader, Crazy Hair, allows Bella to join them. At the end of the day, Bella watches as the dogs go back home to their owners. Crazy Hair appears to invite Bella to join him, but Bella knows that she has to go back to Lucas.
Bella finds herself in the woods the next morning where she hears a gunshot. She finds a dead cougar and runs to hide before the poachers spot her. Bella finds the cougar's cub, mourning the death of her mother. Bella decides to take care of her, naming her Big Kitten. She gets food for them mainly by stealing from unsuspecting people in the area. Unbeknownst to Bella, there are posters for her seeking her return.
A pack of wolves stalk Bella and Big Kitten. They run, and Big Kitten runs up a tree, while Bella barks at the wolves to protect Big Kitten. They are shooed away by three hikers. They set up a campfire overnight and feed Bella. One of them takes off her collar and calls Lucas's number to tell him they found Bella. However, the campers are frightened when Big Kitten shows up, and Bella runs away with her, leaving her collar behind.
Sometime later after the snow has fallen, Bella hears another dog barking. She follows the sound to find a man named Kurch (Chris Bauer) and his dog Dutch walking along the snow. Dutch runs after Bella, which causes an avalanche that traps Kurch under the snow. Bella and Dutch dig Kurch out, and they are helped by a couple named Gavin (Barry Watson) and Taylor (Motell Gyn Foster) who were walking nearby as the avalanche happened. They call for medics to pick up Kurch, and the two take Bella and Dutch in for the time being. After a while, Taylor gets a call from Kurch's sister saying he is out of the hospital. He and Gavin go return the dogs to Kurch, but when Dutch goes to greet his master, he is not happy since he has multiple fractures and can't take care of dogs. He coldly tells Gavin and Taylor to take them, and Bella is horrified to see that Kurch doesn't want Dutch back. Gavin and Taylor decide to adopt the dogs, but Bella is still set on returning to Lucas. She bids farewell to Dutch, knowing that he now has a better home.
Bella runs into town and into a supermarket to take a whole chicken. She is chased around by the staff, who only crash into things and make messes. Bella succeeds in taking the chicken, and she is found by a homeless vet named Axel (Edward James Olmos). He keeps her close as he is lonely, and he asks for money to feed Bella. She doesn't spend much time with him, as Axel hooks Bella to his side as he lays down to die, his last words telling Bella how he loves her. Bella feels him dying and is stuck to him for days until two boys on bikes free her so she can drink water.
Bella makes her way back into the woods where she is found by the wolves. She is chased and cornered but quickly saved by the now fully grown Big Kitten. She attacks the wolves and sends them running, and she nuzzles up with Bella. They walk toward the top of a hill where Bella sees the city. Big Kitten wants Bella to stay with her, but Bella still wants to find Lucas. The two nuzzle up one last time as a goodbye, and Bella runs into town. She finds that she has to cross traffic, and as she runs into the street, she causes a major incident. People get out of their cars to help Bella, but they only frighten her. Bella runs across the other side but is hit by a car. She manages to get up quickly, but with an injured paw.
Bella manages to walk back toward Denver where she finds Lucas's home. She barks until an old lady answers, and Bella barges in to realize that Lucas and Terri no longer live there. The lady calls for help, and who should answer but CHUCK. Bella runs away and finds Mother Cat, who still remembers her. Like before, Mother Cat helps Bella get away, and they share one last look before Bella flees.
Bella figures there is one last place she can find Lucas, and that is at the therapy center. She finds that the center has now welcomed more dogs since they help with depression. The veterans spot Bella and recognize her, and Olivia's co-worker tells her that she spotted a dog running in. Bella then sees Lucas, who is very surprised. She runs into his arms, just as Terri and Olivia run out to embrace Bella as well. They start to take her home, but Chuck and other officers show up for Bella. The captain arrives to see what the fuss is about, and the veterans all defend Bella. Lucas then reminds the captain that he has no jurisdiction because the center is not part of Denver. He agrees to drop this as long as they get Bella out of town safely. Chuck once again threatens to take Bella in if he sees her, but the captain tells Chuck that they have gotten more complaints about him than any other officer, so the captain pulls Chuck out of the field.
Lucas and Terri bring Bella to Golden to her new home. Lucas gives her a tiiiiiny piece of cheese and she happily takes it. Lucas and Olivia sleep together, indicating they are now a couple. As Bella lies in bed with them, she thinks about Big Kitten, whom we see now has a cub of her own. Bella accepts her home being with Lucas and her position as his pet.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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A little dog is left alone under the ruins of an old home as an animal control officer takes her siblings and mother away. She is raised by a cat until she is found by a teen named Lucas and his friend Olivia. Lucas adopts the dog and names her Bella. She becomes a big part of his life, as well as Lucas's mother Terri, and the veterans at a therapy center who all feel happy when Bella is around. However, the animal control officer, Chuck, wants Bella since she is a pitbull and pitbulls are illegal in Denver.
After Bella is taken in once, Lucas and Terri resolve to move to Golden, Colorado where she won't be captured. Bella is sent to Olivia's grandparents house temporarily, but she runs away to go find Lucas. She spends a lot of time on her own, but finds company with other dogs, as well as a couple who briefly takes her and another dog in after they are lost during an avalanche, and a homeless vet whom Bella keeps company during his last few days. Bella also comes to take care of a cougar cub that she calls Big Kitten after her mother is killed by poachers. Bella is saved by Big Kitten when a pack of wolves go after her. Although Big Kitten wants Bella to stay, she is determined to find Lucas.
Bella makes her way back into town and is injured after crossing traffic. She returns to Lucas's old home to find that he doesn't live there anymore, but Chuck has unfortunately spotted her. She makes her way to the therapy center where she finally reunites with Lucas, Olivia, and Terri. They try to take her home, but Chuck and other officers arrive to make trouble. However, Lucas tells the captain that they have no jurisdiction at the center because it is not technically part of Denver. The captain agrees to drop it, and he takes Chuck off the field because multiple people have complained about him.
Lucas brings Bella to his new home where she is now safe, and he starts a relationship with Olivia.
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