When Tina Williams moved to Montana, she never expected to befriend a local whitetail deer and her babies. And after she did, she never imagined that the uncommon friendship would end with her cradling the mama deer in her arms while it suffered for days in sub-zero temperatures before finally passing away.
Sadly, however, that’s the exact situation she found herself in one brutal winter’s day in rural Montana.
In the dead of winter, the Williams family pulled up stakes and left sunny South Carolina for the fresh air and endless outdoor adventure of Big Sky Country. Settling near Canyon Ferry Lake, the family looked around their woodland home in awe, picturing the many wildlife they might encounter in the warmer months.
To their surprise, however, the wildlife came sooner than expected. While unpacking their truck, a mama deer and two fawns appeared from the trees, watching their new neighbors closely.
Montana Woman Nurses Family of Deer Back to Health
Though adorable, Williams immediately noticed something was very wrong with the animals. A former veterinary assistant and wildlife rehabber, the mother of five recognized what appeared to be mineral deficiencies in the little family, all three deer looking sickly.
“[The mother] was overly lean for only a mild December and had vitamin-deficiency signs—unhealthy discolorations and mild sores on the corners of her mouth, not due to wasting disease,” Williams told Newsweek. “She wasn’t coming up for food or affection. It genuinely felt like a plea for help.”
Heartbroken at the sight of the frail deer, the new Montana resident decided to take action. Drawing the deer in with water and tasty salt licks, Williams slowly nursed them back to health with supplements. After just a few weeks of care, the deer had “completely transformed,” appearing in good health and good spirits.
For the next three years, the mama deer, affectionately named “Shia,” continued to visit the Montana home with her fawns, bringing two to three new babies each time. At this point, Williams had fallen ill herself, but Shia’s daily visits never failed to raise her spirits. The deer even took to sleeping near Williams’ bedroom window for safety.
Shia the Deer Dies in Her Friend’s Arms
Then, one frigid winter day in late 2022, Williams waited by her window for Shia’s arrival. As the deer approached, however, the Montana woman’s delight turned to horror. Shia was limping. The mama deer had grisly claw marks covering her body, her ankle badly broken and infected.
Soon, Shia was so ill she could no longer walk, instead lying motionless in the cold snow outside the Williams’ home. So Tina Williams again cared for her friend, covering her in blankets and keeping her nourished with food and water.
Unable to get help from the Montana DFW and forbidden from putting the deer down herself, Williams could do nothing but try to comfort her dying friend, cradling the deer’s head in her arms.
With snow falling and the babies crying nearby, Shia finally died, three days after collapsing. It was 4 am, the snow fell in sheets, and the temperatures were cold enough to cause frostbite, but Williams never left her side.
“My husband and boys buried her. Her new babies stood closely by,” Williams recalled. “I never thought I could feel so deeply connected to a deer, but there I was, sobbing in below-zero temperatures until I couldn’t catch my breath.”