Story of Tinkerbell, Norma's Last Cat Companion

A pet's tale of resilience, human failure and an undeserved tragic death in her own home



Tinkerbell was a spayed, declawed gold and white tabby adopted by Norma from an animal shelter several
months after Miss Kitty died. (You can see her on the sofa in the photo with Norma to the right of center in the dedication area at the bottom of every page.) I hopelessly advised against this as I knew I was likely to become Tinkerbell's caregiver, which would result in an emotional bond that would eventually have to be broken, probably by her death. I'd learned that the breaking of this type of bond is too costly for me. I'd also have to buy food for Tinkerbell that contained body parts of other animals, contradicting my wish to refrain from patronizing the enslavement and/or killing of other animals. 
Norma wanted a cat that would be relaxed on her lap. But no test was made for this ability prior to adoption and it turned out that Tinkerbell resisted any attempt to hold or lift her. We suspected she associated that with some trauma earlier in her life as she had been returned to the shelter due to an unsatisfactory previous adoption. So Norma never was able to enjoy Tinkerbell as the lap cat she deserved as she would always forcefully squirm away whenever I managed to quickly place her on Norma's lap. 
Luckily, Norma could pet Tinkerbell for an unlimited time as long as she was on her own cushion and no attempt was made to restrain her. So, as Norma's caregiver, I learned to place her wheel chair beside her bed, which was Tinkerbell's favorite daytime place, and then she would stroll over to Norma from her place on the bed for a session of petting, and maybe a couple of treats! Norma lost her ability to care for and play with Tinkerbell over the next several years. So when I took over, I made sure Norma could see me brushing and playing with Tinkerbell, which we all enjoyed very much. 

 A few months before Norma died, Tinkerbell began urinating more than usual and diabetes was diagnosed, despite maintaining a normal weight on a diet of dry cat food of over 30% protein. Neither of the two vet clinics that treated Tinkerbell's diabetes offered a comprehensive conference explaining the latest comprehensive treatment protocol and the costs, either immediately after the diagnosis or at any time. Because of this, I couldn't make informed decisions about treatment. Also because this conference never occurred, I contacted the treating clinic frequently during treatment with questions, which earned me the derogatory label of “high maintenance client” according to the clinic owner in his reply to the Veterinarian Exam Board regarding my complaint.
When Tinkerbell's treatment began to seem incompetent, I began researching it online. (To view a copy of the actual complaint filed about this incompetency, click here. What I found was very different from what Tinkerbell was getting. It seems likely to me that neither clinic could offer that crucial conference on the latest protocol because they were unaware of it. Such a conference is crucial, especially when treatment of the diagnosed disease requires significant home treatment as does diabetes and some others. 

During the course of her incompetent diabetic treatment, I learned via online research that dry food is likely to result in dehydration which can stress the kidneys because cats evolved to eat flesh which contains at least 75% moisture and so have a low thirst reflex. It is also likely to promote obesity because dry foods contain a far higher carbohydrate content than the flesh food with which they evolved, resulting in abnormally high blood sugar levels. Obesity is a leading precursor for diabetes. 
I eventually found both a dry cat food containing no carbohydrates and wet cat foods containing less than 3% carbohydrate. (For a comprehensive guide about feline chronic kidney disease, diabetes and nutrition, click here).That was more expensive but just a fraction of the expense of the incompetent diabetes treatment and its associated invasive daily procedures I had to perform at home, which continually threatened the very bond necessary for those procedures. They consisted of pricking her ear for blood samples to test for the glucose level and then an injection of insulin when it was too high. The anguish and regret I felt while treating Tinkerbell's diabetes at home was nearly unbearable. This was especially torturous when she was already feeling lethargic and miserabIe from her symptoms. I can only hope the many invasive treatments Tinkerbell patiently endured for so many months weren't as agonizing for her as they were for me. 
Tinkerbell and I bonded when I kept caring for her after Norma died. I couldn't have done my best if I'd have prevented the bond that was necessary in order to learn what Tinkerbell needed and wanted. 


Important considerations for current and potential pet caregivers, pet owners and pet parents
There is a crucial difference between providing home medical care for someone who can give informed consent and someone who can't. It seems that caring for the latter must be similar to caring for humans who can't speak, such as human infants. (Those of you who've cared for both are invited to comment.) What made Tinkerbell's period of home medical treatment so nightmarish for me was not only the multiple daily invasive acts I had to inflict on my companion, but the uncertainty of what that was like for her and how long she would tolerate them. If she stopped tolerating them, treatment would either require more force, threatening our bond and possibly ending our companionship, or stopping treatment and salvaging the bond with Tinkerbell's death as the result. Yes, we can coax, be gentle and patient and offer rewards for their tolerance. But we can't know how long that tolerance will last. 
Some animals seem to know when we're trying to help. Others will have none of it and will die before enduring our restraint or touch. If your animal companion is stricken by one of the many diseases requiring frequent home treatments, they could be worth trying because your companion may be so tolerant that they're successful. But it's far better to do all possible to prevent this situation from arising by providing the very best preventative care for your companion or, if after investigating the needs of your potential companion, you find you're unable or unwilling to provide that care, to refrain from taking that responsibility. 
Finally, how do the benefits that you may receive from caring for a pet compare to the costs you may pay, especially the potential medical expenses due to illness or injury and the potential psychological costs due to a traumatic loss of your companion? Should pets come with a warning, especially when given to children? 

In spite of the hit and miss treatment of Tinkerbell's diabetes and my too slow research of it online, she had a one month period of remission! But then blood glucose control was lost without explanation during her last couple of months. At this point I searched for and found a vet clinic that had a feline diabetes treatment protocol much like what I was finding online. When a veterinarian there said the first thing they try is dietary intervention, I knew I should've taken Tinkerbell there from the beginning. But they had a full caseload and were 45 miles away. All they could've done by this time is diagnose an immune disorder very difficult to treat in a patient that had become treatment resistant due to the frequent use of force.
Diagnosis of his immune disorder, eosinophilic granuloma complex, was missed when a veterinarian treating her diabetes ignored an oral polyp during a dental prophylactic that was the beginning of the oral mass diagnosed and removed months later by the veterinarian at another clinic who first diagnosed the diabetes. Almost any illness or inflammation, this complex among them, will greatly complicate the already complicated diabetes treatment and cause loss of blood glucose control, especially if inflammation is treated with corticosteroids, as this complex is commonly treated.
After a promising but brief recovery, Tinkerbell stopped eating and declined rapidly. So a euthanasia at her home was planned for her so she’d not have to endure a last familiar assault in a vet office during her last hours. She had become treatment resistant during the year of incompetent diabetes treatment because it required many more invasive procedures than competent treatment and nearly every one of those procedures was preceded by a forceful restraint, a grasp of the nape of the neck. That became her warning that she would shortly feel pain and she resisted. She had to be restrained and sedated for every procedure and that is contraindicated. Her resistance could’ve been avoided if her vets and technicians had used low stress handling from the beginning.

     Tinkerbell sunbathing in a favorite place
where she died six years later

For Tinkerbell's euthanasia, I chose a veterinarian who just weeks before had performed one that was described as perfect by my sister for one of her cat companions: no distress and without any sedation! During a meeting at the clinic with this vet before the euthanasia I asked for a sedative that I could administer at home before they arrived so that use of force could be avoided. The only choice was a pill which would’ve required force to administer and so was flag number one. The vet said “We’ll work it out” flag number two.
When the vet and assistant arrived, I asked that they stand by quietly while I gently moved a very sick, trusting and weak Tinkerbell from her safe place under a sofa to a favorite bird watching place on the back of the sofa so that she would be accessible to the vet and technician. After getting permission to begin, I was stunned to see the technician use the same forceful restraint that had become Tinkerbell’s warning. I should’ve expected this. I’m sure Tinkerbell did. She hissed, squirmed and writhed to escape despite her pathetic condition. At that point, a euthanasia worthy of the term became impossible and I should’ve intervened or redirected it. A towel wrap or at least a cloth placed over her head and a slower pace may have salvaged it. I don’t know why I did nothing. 
After this assault, the greater pain of the vet injecting a sedative into Tinkerbell’s rear leg muscle followed. Her reaction was even more horrific. (I learned later that such an injection is contraindicated for agitated, emaciated patients such as Tinkerbell because of the pain they often cause.) Released from her attackers, I tried to replace her in her safe place but she tried to get away. I let her go only to watch her dutifully stagger down a hall with the vet tech making a tentative move to block her way, until I ran to help and support her while she vomited in her litter box, her last conscious act. She tried to be a good kitty even as she lost consciousness for the last time of her life. She deserved so much better. Distress and/or pain would've been greatly reduced or eliminated if the euthanasia had been performed in accordance with the protocol of the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy. (For accounts of other failures, click here.) 
I carried her limp body with eyes open to the back of the sofa where the tech shaved a patch of skin on an inner thigh. The vet then asked permission to inject the lethal dose. I wanted to start over to end her suffering without increasing it, as she deserved. But of course, it was too late for that and the only choice was to continue. The one chance to do it correctly was gone. So the injection was given and death confirmed. Then they asked if I wanted a snippet of fur or whiskers from Tinkerbell's body, as if I would like a souvenir to help remember this hideous incident! I told them "No. I've learned not to do that", (because I regretted having taken some of both from Miss Kitty). They then placed her body in a box that was too small, a final insult. 
Before they left, I expressed great dissatisfaction, said I wished that I could apologize to Tinkerbell but would never be able to do so. I told them there had to be a better way to do this.
After they left with her body leaving me with a house of horrors, I broke down completely, realizing that the rest of my life would be very different than it would've been had Tinkerbell had the peaceful death she deserved. 
I consider it a triumph that I've found two good things to say about this atrocity. 
One; Tinkerbell is no longer suffering.
Two; Norma didn't live to hear about it, or worse yet, live to see it. 
This has been the story of cat Tinkerbell; a story ending in tragedy and suffering for which I work to give meaning and value.
P.S. Both vet clinics that mistreated Tinkerbell were notified during February 2023 that my reviews would be edited accordingly if they documented that they’d taken measures to prevent recurrence of the adverse medical events. The notification also included a wealth of suggestions and online resources intended to assist in their efforts to improve. Neither vet clinic replied.
(Photos by Michael of PetEuthanasia.Info.)

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