Tiny Tim, Houston's beloved overweight cat who was diagnosed with cancer in January, has died.
"I'm still in stock," said Dr. Alice Frei of the Southside Place Animal Hospital. "It was very, very fast... but he didn't suffer."
This morning started out like any other morning. Frei said the hospital staff fed Tim breakfast, then he walked down the hall, but then suddenly he collapsed and stopped breathing. They rushed to perform CPR, "but he just never came back," said Frei, who has monitored the 28.5-pound feline's progress since he was brought into the animal hospital over a year ago.
"It's sad, it's really sad," Frei said. "We've lost the most wonderful cat in the world but he went out in the way he lived -- by his own rules."
Frei first announced Tim's death on the cat's Facebook fan page, "Tiny Tim at Spah," which has received hundreds of comments of support and love. After Tim's cancer diagnosis was confirmed in January, Frei has been keeping the page updated with his progress and said "hundreds of people" had come by the animal hospital to see him.
"He died doing what he liked to do the best, which was eating and visiting with people," Frei said.
Tim, who Frei said was about 9 or 10 years old, gained national attention for his "super sweet" disposition, overweight figure and subsequent strict diet and exercise plan after he arrived at the animal hospital around Christmas 2011.
When he was first brought in, Tim weighed a whopping 35.2 pounds, but tests showed he was otherwise healthy. When a search for his owner proved unsuccessful, the hospital took him in as a permanent resident.
For a year, he was fed a precise diet of 307 calories per day. Tim's doctors made sure he exercised by carrying him to the front of the clinic at least three times a day so he has to walk the 50 feet back to his sleeping area in a store room for meals.
But after he was diagnosed in January with an "undefinable" and "aggressive" rare tumor in his elbow, which then Frei theorized spread to his lungs and heart, she decided to let Tim cheat on his diet. The staff fed him turkey and rotisserie chicken and Frei admitted he did gain some of his weight back.
"But he did some serious purring in these last two months," she said. "He was a pretty happy cat."
Aside from his cancer and some arthritis, Frei said Tim's blood work and x-rays, taken as recent as yesterday, appeared normal, so his death came as a shock. These past few months have taken an emotional toll on Frei, but she was grateful that Tim didn't have to be put down and wasn't in pain when he died.
"I've been back to his room, and seeing his bed gone and his special giant litter box, and knowing he won't be up here every morning asking for breakfast, it's just..." she said, through tears. "[But] he had a great time."
Tiny Tim will be cremated and his ashes placed in an urn, which will be brought back to the animal hospital.
"If ever there was a stray that got the brass ring, even if it was a little tarnished, it was definitely him," Frei said.