Tina's Last Days

Tina and Winkie
Tina & Winkie

The Days Surrounding Tina's Death
Written July 25, 2004

More questions than answers is the story of Tina's last days at the Sanctuary. Many have commented at their shock of not knowing Tina was sick. The truth is that Tina did not show signs of being sick beyond her chronic foot disease which vacillated between looking better, then not. Nothing in her behavior or medical condition gave any indication that her health was terminal.

Approximately one week before she died, Carol noticed that Tina was eating her grain "funny". As Carol stood at Tina's side, she watched Tina gingerly pick at her grain with the tip of her trunk, flicking the grain towards her mouth. This style of eating grain might be common with a more finicky eater but Tina was not known for being shy about eating. This was the very first indication that something was not right.

Upon closer observation Carol saw that Tina was indeed interested in eating, seemed to try and pinch a small amount of grain in her trunk and toss it towards her mouth but was not grabbing the pile of food the way she usually did. After some encouragement and assistance from Carol, Tina reached down into the pile of grain and successfully picked it up and ate it. Carol made a note of her observation and watched as Tina ate her produce and hay. While eating her produce Tina appeared to be in such a hurry that she missed her mouth almost every time with her fruits and vegetables. After missing the first time she would successfully find her mouth on the second try. The other thing that Carol noticed was that Tina seemed to be smacking her mouth together, like gumming her food rather than grinding her teeth in the normal way. A note was made to check and see if she was teething.

The next morning Tina's caregivers talked about what each had observed. They checked her teeth and found that only one tooth could be considered a little overgrown, but nothing abnormal. The vet was consulted and a remedy was prescribed. Tina responded well; everything seemed to be back to normal. Two days later her abnormal eating once again was observed. This time caregivers watched as Tina was given pieces of produce by hand. She consistently missed her mouth by inches. Regardless that she was having difficulty eating she continued to have a healthy appetite.

After evaluating her symptoms a new remedy was prescribed and once again Tina responded favorably. The fact that Tina remained in and around the barn ensured that someone would be watching her continually. If it was not a caregiver in the barn or yard area, it was Carol watching her through the observation cameras. Tina remained active, drank well, ate well, and generally kept as busy as she normally did. Late night EleCam coverage found Tina outside in the evenings casually hanging out by the back door. She would stand outside the barn door and interact with Winkie and Sissy until the late night feeding at 10:30 p.m. when Sissy and Winkie joined her inside the barn. There was no sign of distress, or other change in behavior with the exception of what appeared to be a flair up with her arthritis.

On Sunday it appeared that Tina's feet were causing her some pain and her front legs showed signs of discomfort. She developed a strange redness on the inside her mouth. It was not raw but it looked almost like she was sucking at the inside of her mouth. Perhaps the lip smacking had caused the reddish appearance. The vets recommended a re-dose of remedy and although Tina responded, it was not the complete response we were looking for.

Prior to the onset of her health problem, Tina had been receiving a daily pain killer for her feet. Most drugs are known to have side effects. This drug comes with a warning of known side effects of possible ulcers of the stomach, intestinal track and mouth. Due to the redness in her mouth and her sudden change in health, the vet instructed that Tina be taken off the pain killer, and a homeopathic pain killer remedy was prescribed. The fear was that the drug given to reduce the pain in her diseased feet may have caused her to develop ulcers. In addition to the homeopathic pain killer, Tina was given several remedies that would address any ulcers she might have. Slippery elm park powder mixed with aloe vera was added to her grain to help heal any damage the drug may have caused. When the necropsy was performed it showed that Tina did not have ulcers in her stomach, intestinal track or mouth. Everyone took some solace in knowing that ulcers played no part in her demise.

To boost her immune system and support her body's own self-healing response, Tina was given additional antioxidants. Although pain killing drugs can block pain, they can also block healing. The effort of trying to prevent an animal's suffering while supporting its natural healing responses can become difficult at best. Tina ate her supplements readily and enjoyed the extra antioxidant-laden produce. She consumed crates of grapes, blueberries and watermelon, as well as other assorted produce, all effective in combating disease.

Tina's strength and activity level remained normal, and late in the day Monday her caregivers began hand feeding her grain and produce to ensure she consumed all of her diet. This was not because she was weak but because she showed little interest in picking the food up. All this time she interacted enthusiastically with her caregivers and Sissy and Winkie who shared the barn with her each night. All day Monday Tina continued to receive her remedy and her condition seemed to stabilize. That night Winkie and Tina spent the evening standing comfortably side by side. Tina even began eating normally again.

On Tuesday the staff was encouraged because Tina seemed to bounce back. She continued to receive her extra supplements which she took willingly. She was eating, drinking and giving the impression that whatever had ailed her was no longer a problem, but her feet and front legs continued to appear to be very uncomfortable. It was Tina's normal behavior to lean on things. She would back up against the wall or corral pipe and lean back to take the weight off her front legs and feet. This day she could not get comfortable in any of her favorite leaning locations, so hammock-style straps were suspended across two corners in the stalls in the hopes that Tina would find comfort by leaning into them. They were marginally effective. Finally, Tina returned to her preferred wall leaning.

Staff was in the barn all night and at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday Tina lowered herself to the floor. This was unusual since Tina had not been off her feet since her arrival. Continually standing is one of the contributing factors to Tina's foot problems. She had not lain down for a year prior to coming to the Sanctuary. The zoo staff was justifiably concerned that if Tina did lie down she would not be able to get up. This condition was one of the reasons that the zoo made the decision to move Tina to the Sanctuary. Tina was in an awkward sitting position, but she was not struggling and seemed to have no desire to get up. Neither was she weak or breathless; quite the opposite, she appeared calm and relaxed. One can only imagine how it felt to finally get all that weight off her sore feet. Carol and Scott set up the hoist and harness with the intent of helping Tina to her feet and allowing her to rest in the harness. Within minutes it was obvious that Tina was not able to coordinate the movement to get her legs in the normal standing position. The vet was called as well as Joanna, and Carol and Scott proceeded to make Tina comfortable with a fluffed up hay bed. Tina did not move much but seemed to appreciate the soft hay pillow for her head. At no time did she struggle or thrash around. She did not show signs of distress. Her eyes remained focused; she was coherent and calm. The truth is that she did not even defecate, which would have been a sure sign of distress. At 2:45 a.m. Tina's eyes gently closed. Just at the moment that both Joanna and Dr. Scott arrived, less than 15 minutes after they had been called, Tina passed away with Scott and Carol caressing her, and Sissy, Winkie and Tarra standing close by.

Tina was gone so quickly, everyone was in shock. At no time was there any suggestion that her condition was fatal. Her care and treatment was attentive and serious but never with any thought of death. Even in hindsight the entire staff and veterinary team could think of nothing that went unnoticed that would have led anyone to the conclusion that Tina was dying.

Tarra was the first to visit Tina's body. Sissy and Winkie spent the entire night and next day standing quietly over Tina's body; they would not leave—not for food, not for water, not for a walk outside. Winkie was visually distraught. She pushed and prodded Tina as if trying to get her to wake up. She ate hay that had served as Tina's bed and continued to try and get her friend to wake up. Sissy stood quietly beside both friends.

Scott spent the day at Tina's grave site preparing for her necropsy (animal autopsy) and burial. It was unanimous that her grave should be close to the barn, in the area familiar to Tina. Once the grave was ready, Tina's body was moved. Sissy and Winkie remained with Tina. Although Sissy stood a short distance back, Winkie remained very close to Tina as she was moved, continuing to push Tina's trunk back and forth, encouraging her to wake up. Tina's body was placed in the grave and the necropsy was performed. Samples were collected to be sent to the lab and hopefully some answers will be found. The necropsy itself gave no answers short of what was already known. The pads of Tina's feet showed signs of long term disease. Her toe bones were deteriorated and she had severe arthritis in her legs and feet. The fact that she had no cartilage in her joints supported the observation of Tina's discomfort when walking. Dr. Scott pointed out that Tina's joints were bone on bone.

From the onset of Tina condition, Dr. Scott suspected a heart problem, perhaps even a heart attack. The loss of motor skills and inability to place food into her mouth effectively would go hand-in-hand with a stroke or heart attack. Due to his suspicion, Dr. Scott removed Tina's heart to be analyzed in the hopes that we would know definitively why she died.

At 6:00 p.m. Tina's caregivers honored her with flowers and gifts and laid her to rest. Winkie and Tarra stood at the edge of the grave, unwilling to allow the dozer to cover Tina's body with dirt. Observing their grief was excruciating. Tarra kept grabbing Carol's hand and guiding her toward Tina in a gesture that felt too much like, "Go get her." It was heartbreaking. Sissy, Winkie and Tarra spent the evening and the next day at the grave. Winkie was deep in thought, her face was drawn, her eyes half closed, her body stiff and her movement rigid. She paced around Tina's grave. Tarra talked a lot and solicited attention from her caregivers while Sissy soulfully stood vigil, not only over Tina, but Winkie as well.

Friday morning arrived. The staff realized there would be little time to honor the grieving process. They now had to face the daunting task of breaking the devastating news of Tina's death to her friends and family. Tina's fan club was contacted by email hoping that hearing about Tina's unexpected demise would somehow be less traumatic coming from Carol than the morning news anchor. The news sent shock waves through the B.C. community and beyond. The media did a wonderful job of reporting, showing incredible sensitivity.

All day Friday the staff responded to reporters and distraught Tina's fans from all across North America. As Tina's human family struggled to deal with their grief, her elephant sisters continued to stand vigil over her grave. Reporters asked about Tina and the other elephants' response to her death. Sissy and Winkie remained at Tina's grave until the afternoon. Their foot prints could be clearly seen all around the grave site. In the center lay a wreath of sorts. Before Sissy left she placed her tire, her signature security blanket, on top of Tina's grave. She and Winkie walked down the pasture to join Shirley and Jenny. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent with their adopted family, comrades in a foreign land, fellow survivors of circumstances too sad to imagine. The family remained very close throughout the night and next day.

Saturday was a somber day. Caregivers and elephants alike appeared to be carrying a heavy load. The volunteers painting the quarantine barn in preparation for our new arrivals could not help but share their grief. Winkie solicited extra attention and all the elephants stayed close together.

Over the next two days the dark cloud of grief began to lift. The elephants returned to a more normal behavior, but Sissy, Winkie and Tarra continued to visit Tina's grave several times both days. All this time, Sissy's tire remained on top of Tina's grave. Monday, after her morning vigil, Sissy gently picked up her tire and carried it off down the pasture. Apparently, Tina no longer needed it.

Sissy's Tire
A "wreath of sorts"—Sissy's Tire—on Tina's grave
(From an Ele-cam capture)