The blessing of Baylee: Dog rescues owner by fetching help |

The blessing of Baylee: Dog rescues owner by fetching help

Baylee regularly visits Donna Kingwell at Spring Hill Manor Rehabilitation and Convalescent Hospital
Photo by Lorraine Jewett |

It was late and dark; unseasonably cold for a June night in Nevada City.

And 71-year-old Donna Kingwell faced a life-threatening emergency.

“I don’t know how I got there, but suddenly I was flat on my back at the bottom of my stairs,” recalled Kingwell. “I landed in damp grass and weeds at the base of a tree, and I laid there for four hours until 3 a.m.”

Kingwell had broken five ribs and her scapula in a nasty fall the month before. But was this fall even worse? Was she paralyzed?

“I just knew I was in real trouble. I was in an awkward position and I couldn’t move.”

Her Australian Cattle Dog named Baylee — who turns 5 years old next month — nestled in next to her.

“She was snuggling with me, trying to keep me warm,” remembered Kingwell.

Kingwell shouted for help, but she couldn’t yell loud enough for neighbors to hear. She said her heart sank when her nearest neighbors — her landlords — turned off their outdoor lights, presumably to go to sleep.

“I said, ‘Baylee, we need a plan B.’”

Baylee had been to the landlords’ home only a number of times during occasional walks with Kingwell. On three occasions, Lee and Carole McCallum had given Baylee a few cookies. Plan B was going to have to be Baylee and her memory of those cookies.

“It felt like I was freezing to death. I started telling Baylee stories of us walking on the berm around the pond, and then going to the house to get cookies. I just kept repeating the story and asking her if she remembered getting cookies,” said Kingwell. “Her ears perked up and she got all excited. When I thought she understood what I wanted, I told Baylee to go get cookies.”

Baylee scampered off.

Later, Lee McCallum said that his home was, in fact, Baylee’s destination.

“Baylee woke us up. She stood at our back deck and just kept barking,” McCallum said. “That was around 3 in the morning. My wife and I followed Baylee back to Donna’s place and found Donna lying there. I got a blanket and put that over her while Carole ran back to our house to call 9-1-1.”

Luckily, Kingwell was not paralyzed. But the situation was serious and emergency medical personnel transported her to the hospital, Baylee had to be locked in the house because the dog didn’t want to leave her owner’s side.

How Baylee came to be in the position to become Kingwell’s Hero, Rescuer, and Best Friend is a story in itself.

Kingwell said she can’t remember a time during her life that she didn’t have at least one dog. When her beloved, aged Catahoula named Dillon passed away in early 2011, Kingwell wasn’t sure she was ready for another.

But Nevada County Treasurer-Tax Collector Tina Vernon knew otherwise.

Vernon and Kingwell had become friends when Kingwell — a retired political strategist — first served as Vernon’s campaign manager in 2008. The two admired each other professionally and forged a strong personal friendship. Over the years, Kingwell would house-sit for Vernon’s dog menagerie as well as Vernon’s parents’ two dogs.

In late 2011, Vernon and Kingwell decided to check out a litter of Australian Cattle Dog puppies. Kingwell selected Baylee, and Vernon adopted Colt from the same litter. The new owner-puppy pairs even completed four months of obedience classes together.

“Dogs have always been an important part of Donna’s life. She never married and never had children. Baylee and Donna were inseparable,” said Vernon. “Herding dogs like Baylee are very, very smart. They are extremely loyal and will do anything to please and protect their owners. It doesn’t surprise me that Baylee did what she did.”

In the days after her accident, Kingwell was in and out of the hospital battling pneumonia. She eventually moved into Spring Hill Manor Rehabilitation and Convalescent Hospital and started a successful physical therapy regimen that is improving her balance.

Meanwhile, Vernon scrambled to find a home for Baylee. With Colt and four Chihuahuas at home, Vernon didn’t have room for another dog. When Vernon’s parents, Wayne and Dorothea Stuhr, learned of Baylee’s plight, they offered to take her in temporarily.

That was three months ago.

“Baylee is a happy camper,” said Kingwell during one of Baylee’s visits to Spring Hill Manor. “She loves living with Wayne and Dorothea. She told me so.”

The Stuhrs said Baylee has blended seamlessly into their family, and the dog enjoys the wide open space of their 3 acres in the South County. They said they will keep her as long as Kingwell and Baylee are happy with the arrangement.

“She has a forever home with us,” added Dorothea.

Meanwhile, Kingwell said she is still awestruck whenever she recounts the story of Baylee’s remarkable rescue.

“I’ll never know how she pieced it all together, especially since she’d only been given cookies at that house three times,” marveled Kingwell. “She’s just a special girl.”

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at

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