MINERAL WELLS (CBSDFW.COM) – Friends say Denise Tighe was an independent woman, a native of Switzerland who came to the United States and, as a young adult, helped manage a bank on Wall Street.
Later in life, she and her now-deceased husband moved to Mineral Wells, west of Fort Worth, where she maintained a home, made friends and got around town in her 1996 Buick Regal.
“She was a huge animal lover,” said friend Virginia Pritchett, especially when it came to her playful cat, a short-haired gray-and-white feline named Bobby.
But more than a year ago, friends and neighbors began to see a change in Tighe, who was in her mid-80s.
Her health, her independence, were slipping away.
“I will never have the heart to tell her that it happened to her, because it would kill her, it really would …it would kill her,” Pritchett said.
A court in February 2012 ruled that Tighe needed to be placed under the state’s guardianship program after finding that she was too “incapacitated,” both mentally and physically, to care for herself, and had little chance of rebounding.
The court, located in Palo Pinto County, also ruled that no one close to Tighe was capable of providing the care she needed. So it appointed a Fort Worth lawyer to be guardian over her belongings and financial affairs, and the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) to guard over her personal welfare.
Since then, Tighe has been moved to an assisted living facility in Weatherford, where her access to visitors must first be approved and monitored by the state.
One of her guardians arranged an estate sale at her house, where organizers promoted the sale of Tighe’s “high-end collectibles,” including Waterford Crystal, jewelry and “excellent furniture.”
And her house is up for sale.
“They just took her away,” friend Kathy Gilbreath told CBS 11’s I-Team.
The state says proceeds from the sales go toward caring for Tighe, and that the assisted living facility in Weatherford is the best place to receive that care.
So who’s taking care of Bobby…her cat?
“His health is almost perfect. There’s nothing wrong with him,” Mineral Wells veterinarian Flint Immel said, with Bobby purring in his lap.
Immel and his assistant, Angel Jiminez, told the I-Team they were shocked when Tighe’s court-appointed guardian called nearly a year ago and said he would no longer pay to have Bobby boarded at their clinic.
“He told me bluntly, the cat will be euthanized because there will be no more boarding fees paid,” Jiminez said.
But instead of putting Bobby down, Immel decided to adopt the cat. “We don’t put healthy cats to sleep …or any animal to sleep that’s healthy,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with the I-Team’s Brian New, Fort Worth attorney Robert Brownrigg said he routinely has to make hard decisions, such as when he was appointed to be a guardian for Tighe.
“Why did you decide to try and put her cat down?” New asked.
“So is that what’s bothering everybody …we didn’t do cat rescue?” Brownrigg responded.
He said he didn’t want to seem cruel, but that he has one focus – to look out for Tighe. And if that means disregarding her pet, then that is what he says he has to do.
“My job is to protect Ms. Tighe’s funds; not her cat,” Brownrigg said.
A spokeswoman for DADS repeatedly declined to comment on Tighe’s case.
What does Tighe think about all of this? We tried to visit with her several times at her new assisted-living home in Weatherford, but were told each time to leave.
The I-Team even went to the facility with Tighe’s sister and her friend, Gilbreath, only to be escorted out by the manager, at which time she announced: “The police department is here to visit with you, so if you’d like to explain your reasons for visiting …”
After that, the Department of Aging and Disability Services sent a letter to Gilbreath and Tighe’s sister, Suzanne Foley, saying they were no longer on an “approved” visitors list for Tighe. Future visits, the letter said, “must be pre-approved, arranged in advance and supervised” by a DADS staff member.
The state says Tighe’s visitors are screened to protect her privacy and to prevent someone from taking advantage of her.
Meanwhile, Bobby’s new owner, Dr. Immel, says he hopes the state will one day allow him and the cat to go visit Tighe.
“You can tell he’s been loved from the beginning. It would just be nice to have whoever raised him just see him again,” Immel said. “You know how much they must have cared for him.”
If you want to reach CBS 11′s Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr., you can email him at email@example.com. If you want to reach CBS 11′s Brian New, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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