newfoundland dog

Sheila, My Dowager Empress

By Rebecca Henderson


Some days you remember forever. What you were doing. The exact time. September 1, 2010 is one of those days in my life. I call them watershed moments.

On that day at approximately 11:00 a.m., my life changed forever when Dr. Rebecca Bailey, who was at that time a veterinarian practicing at Robinson Animal Hospital, called to ask if I’d be interested in fostering a senior, needy Newfoundland that a client found roaming their neighborhood. I went to see Shelia, as she had been named, as soon as I could – certainly within the hour. Time was of the essence, as Dr. Bailey explained that if I could not foster her, she would need to put her to sleep.

I visited Sheila while she was being groomed in the grooming tub; she had more than one mat that was larger than a tennis ball. She ended up with only a bit of fur when she was out of the tub, given the mats and the mange. She looked beyond pitiful. (Because of the severity of her mange, I always had to keep her fur cut short, usually no longer than an inch or so. Even with that, there were several fairly large places on her body where fur was scant and her skin was easily visible.)

Sheila, my Dowager Empress as I came to sometimes call her, was heartworm positive, had two or three kinds of mange, two kinds of eye infections, and an ear infection. Her mange was so bad she was nearly bald; her ribs were easily visible. One of the techs later told me that, according to Sheila’s blood work, she was so malnourished that if she hadn’t eaten in the next 30-36 hours, she would have died of starvation. Sheila was so sick that Dr. Bailey only allowed her two or three tablespoons of food at a time for the first several hours she was at the clinic.

While Sheila wasn’t well enough to move in with me for nearly a month, this is the day that we celebrated her adoption (I was a foster failure!). Knowing of my love for nearly all things English, several of my friends routinely commented that Sheila probably thought she’d died and gone to live in Buckingham Palace! Almost every night for the nearly 5 years I got to have her, Sheila slept by my bed or in the doorway between my bedroom and the hall. There was no need to try to move her, because for the first two years I had Sheila, my mother also lived with us. Sheila wanted to know where I was and where her Granny was, too. I loved Sheila’s soft snores…..they were like music to me.

Sheila always seemed to be so grateful for anything I did for her. Except for the last couple of days of her life, I can count on one hand the times she was less than cooperative with me. I truly think she understood quite a bit of what I would say to her; tone is everything!

According to several vets’ best guess, Sheila was probably between 9 and 12 when, after 3 days of not eating and barely drinking water, I needed to have James Robinson, DVM, put her to sleep. Sheila Barker Henderson. Date of Adoption: September 1, 2010. Date of Death: July 8, 2015.

Sheila, My Dowager Empress

The picture is one of my favorite of Sheila; she was having 24/7 in-patient physical therapy at Robinson’s for Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome. One of the techs took this picture of her in the wee hours of the morning. You can see the pile of bedding in the lower-right corner; Sheila apparently got too hot and moved to the cooler tile.

Rebecca Henderson HeadshotSince January 20, 2007, Rebecca Henderson has had at least one Newfoundland in residence at her home, with as many as five: Vera, Bashia, Rufas, Elsa, and Sheila.

Currently, she is “Mom” to Posey and Pippa. With the exception of Sheila, all have been or are breeding and show quality; for many reasons Sheila was pet quality. But what a magnificent pet she was!

One highlight of Rebecca’s Newf ownership was getting to be a “Newf Nanny” for one of 17 puppies born to a breeder who developed health issues and had to find homes for puppies immediately. As a ”Newf Nanny” she served as mentor for first-time Newf-owning families.

Over the years, all of Rebecca’s Newfs have donated blood to dogs in distress; she has received the “Can you please bring one of your Newfs to the clinic stat? Dr. Robinson is doing a splenectomy and needs to transfuse. Just come in the back door. Don’t bother to knock” call 47 times. She believes 43 dogs have been saved by the blood her dogs have donated. 
Rebecca emailed us some stories of blood  donations.

We thought our readers would also be interested:

I’m just fortunate that I’ve always been at or near home when I’ve received the call and in the middle of something that I could drop.  A couple of times, I’ve gotten phone calls to bring in a dog that afternoon at my convenience for a surgery the next day, so that makes it a bit easier.

My favorite story was actually a failure. One of the DVMs at the practice called me on a Thurs. to see if I could run Vera (my best donor – never needed any drugs to calm her – they said her veins were like hoses) down to have some preliminary blood work for a possible transfusion. Another client was a mastiff breeder, and Mom was scheduled for a section of her 14 puppies (on ultrasound – they don’t always know if there are more til they get in) on Sat. The breeder wanted to have all of the ducks in a row, or puppies in a cradle, so to speak, prior to the section. 

Vera had the preliminary blood work, which was textbook perfect. I was asked to be at the office with Vera at 9 on Sat. morning. We got there about 8:30, I left Vera in an exam room, and left to go run errands. I returned about 25 min. later. Mom and 14 puppies were all fine.  There were 2 DVMs working on Mom, stitching from each end of the incision, and 1 was waiting to start the donation from Vera – which thankfully wasn’t needed.  

I asked a month or so later about Mom and puppies and all were doing well at that point.

Another favorite story is when Bashia got a phone call. One of the DVMs needed blood for a gravely ill dog recovering from a splenectomy.  (Another of my dogs had donated the day before.  Dogs can donate every 56 days. Little-known trivia!)

At any rate, Bashia was always bouncy, playful and peppy literally until the day before she died at nearly 13. I took Bashia to the back and went out to the waiting room. (It usually just takes about 30 min. from blood test to end of blood draw for transfusion, and eating a large can of dog food.) This time, it didn’t. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, after about 90 min., I asked the receptionist to go see what was going on.  

Bashia was so bouncy and playful that 3 of the techs had been playing with her for that length of time to tire her out; because of the donee dog’s situation, Bashia couldn’t have any “calm-me-down” meds, so 3 techs laid on her while the blood was being drawn for the transfusion.  I had one exhausted Bashia that night!  

The recipient dog did fine but was in ICU for about 3 more days. 

Rebecca loves seeing pictures of other Newfs and reading stories of their antics. She is in several Facebook Newfoundland groups including  The Best Newfie Group Ever, Newfoundland Dog Owners Forum, SENC Newf Rescue and The Newfoundland Dog Owners & Lovers Group. Additionally, she is the administrator of the Newfie Dog Lovers Prayer Request Group.
Rebecca can be reached at rebeccahendersonjc@yahoo.com

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