FRANKLIN (AP) — Protective, intelligent, loving and disciplined are words Vickie Renshaw uses to describe Bella, her 6-year-old pet chocolate Labrador retriever.
“Heroic” may be another apt descriptor for Bella, who is being credited with helping keep her groomer and caretaker, Shannon Henderson, alive overnight after she collapsed from a seizure.
Bella is believed to have provided warmth for Henderson through the night and then alerted a bystander in the morning about Henderson’s condition.
“You think of dogs that get lost from their owners and travel great distances and you see them out on their own, and Bella could have just gone off,” Renshaw said.
The Renshaws were frequent clients of Henderson’s at Best in Show dog grooming, taking Bella there.
On a weekend in early April, Bella was left in Henderson’s care while the Renshaws were out of town.
Henderson had recently started suffering from non-epileptic seizures while operating Best in Show, but they had not been too disruptive in the first six months she had been experiencing them.
During an unseasonably cool night that weekend, however, Henderson was blindsided by another seizure as she took Bella outside the business to use the bathroom about 9 p.m.
Neighboring businesses in the small complex off U.S. 31-W By-Pass where Best in Show was located were closed, and with temperatures plunging into the 30s, Henderson was in grave danger.
It is believed that Bella did not come into contact with another person until about 8:30 a.m. the following day, when Alvin Meador arrived at Jim and Gill’s Men’s Shop with Judy Lindsey, who was set to open the store.
Lindsey said she noticed Bella on her own by a van in the parking lot near the business.
Bella has a strong resemblance to the dog that belongs to Lindsey’s manager, and as she went to the store, Meador walked over to play with the dog.
Meador said the dog appeared to want to tell him something and then walked around some fencing toward a grassy lot near the businesses.
Meador followed and eventually encountered Henderson, who was lying unconscious on the ground, covered in mud and scrapes from where Bella apparently dragged her from outside the business. It is believed that Bella lay on top of Henderson to provide warmth during the night.
“I saw (Henderson) lying there,” Meador said. “(Bella) goes over there and sits right by her and barks at me like she’s telling me something has to be done … if it wasn’t for her walking back there I never would have found (Henderson).”
Meador ran back to tell Lindsey to call 911 and then returned to where Henderson and Bella were. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, Henderson’s cellphone rang.
Meador answered it and found himself talking to Sandie Norwood, Henderson’s best friend. Meador explained the situation over the phone to Norwood, who was calling from her home in Franklin.
“From the way he described her, I knew she had a massive seizure,” Norwood said. “All I knew was to get to the shop, so I flew to Bowling Green.”
Henderson stayed in The Medical Center for eight days after emergency personnel reached her. She was treated for hypothermia, with one IV delivering fluids to one arm and a second IV delivering hot fluids to her other arm.
Henderson was wearing a T-shirt when she collapsed, and her body temperature got perilously low.
“I was told that if it had been another couple degrees colder, my organs would have started shutting down,” Henderson said.
She was hospitalized for a few days before learning what happened to her and how she had been found. Henderson said she was stunned at the account.
“You find that animals never let you down,” Henderson said last week. “No matter how low you are, they always treat you the same. They’re very therapeutic for me.”
After being released, Henderson was readmitted for another day for additional care after struggling during her recovery at home.
Henderson, who was a veterinary technician for 22 years before going into dog grooming full time, has endured some setbacks since her most recent stay in the hospital — persistent health concerns forced her to close Best in Show, and she is struggling with medical bills.
Henderson, who now takes anti-seizure medication, has moved in with Norwood and her mother, and she continues to help look after dogs, including Bella, whose protective instinct still emerges around her.
“I’ll see (Bella) nosing Shannon to remind her to take her meds,” Norwood said.
Henderson hopes to get a seizure response dog to help in the event of another emergency.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, seizure response dogs can be trained to bark when a person has seizure in order to alert others. A response dog can also put itself between the floor and the seizure sufferer in order to break the person’s fall.
The Renshaws visited Henderson in the hospital, leaving flowers for her, and they remain close.
Earlier this week, the Renshaws had Henderson, Meador, Lindsey and Norwood and others over to play with Bella and recall her poise during the emergency.
For all of Henderson’s struggles, she considers herself fortunate to know people who offer their help.
“It just makes you feel good that people care because there’s sometimes not a lot of that in the world where it should be,” Henderson said.