|Sheila (far right) with orange ear tag|
Earlier that day, Gail had seen Sheila, but she didn't look very good. Still, Gail had been amazed before by Sheila's resilience. In fact, when I first started filming at the farm in August 2009, Gail introduced me to Sheila but said she worried the poor old gal wouldn't make it through the winter. Well, not only did she survive the winter of 2009-10, with its big snows and cold weather, but she made it through to December of this year.
Gail found Sheila on Tuesday morning. She went out to feed the deer as usual, carrying cans of corn into the enclosure and calling them down from the woods. Sheila was always the first deer to approach, and for some time, Gail had been bringing Sheila a bit of corn and sweet feed (a high calorie mixture enriched with molasses) in her own metal bucket. Only Sheila would eat from this bucket, and that made it possible for Gail to ensure that she got a good bit to eat every day. When deer get to Sheila's advanced age, not only are they subject to being pushed around by younger animals, but their teeth have ground down from years of use. So getting enough to eat can be a challenge. The one thing Sheila had no difficulty with at all was marching up to the fence to make sure she got food from visitors who offered it. That's what most people remember of Sheila -- a feisty old gal with an orange ear tag, brave enough to approach for a handout.
So on that Tuesday morning when Sheila wasn't the first deer to approach, Gail knew immediately something was wrong. She told me later that she feared for a moment finding her in the woods, dying. That would have meant Gail would have to shoot her -- something she really didn't want to have to do to this old friend.
But then another thought came into Gail's head. She had a strong feeling that she'd find Sheila in the barn. She told me, "she let me know she was in there." Gail walked up the hill and there in the barn, she found Sheila, lying down in a crouch position with all legs folded underneath the body (the way deer will sleep), with her neck stretched out and her eyes closed. It was a huge relief -- her closed eyes were a clear indication that Sheila died in her sleep. We should all be so lucky.
It was sad for Gail. She remembers Sheila as the eldest of all the deer, the only one left from the first year she lived at Deauville with her husband, Alex, the deer farmer. It's not surprising losing Sheila would bring back memories of Alex.
It was sad for me, too. Another marker of the passage of time. The hardest part was telling my boys, because they really liked to feed Sheila. She "personalized" the rest of the skittish herd for people, and especially for kids. She was a fallow deer ambassadress, and we will miss her at the fence.