KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Zookeepers first noticed the signs about a year ago: Patches the Giraffe wasn't doing so well.
"They began to notice that she's been holding a foot up periodically and taking her weight off her foot," Lisa New, the president and CEO of Zoo Knoxville, said.
There's no cure for the advanced arthritis in the 31 year-old's legs.
The zoo has been giving her medication to help with the pain---but it's tough to take care of an animal as big as a giraffe.
"Its not like we can ask her to walk and turn a corner and see how she does," Veterinarian Dr. Andrew Cushing said, "She's not very practical like that."
In fact, Patches can be downright stubborn.
"Giraffes are generally suspicious," Cushing said. "And she is certainly up there."
Patches had been doing better recently with stronger meds and the warmer weather, but doesn't keep up with the younger animals anymore.
"There is a point in time where we would make a quality of life decision," New said.
Patches has spent her whole life in Knoxville. She was born at the zoo in 1987 to parents E.T. and Miss T.
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Since then, she's had eight offspring and amazed tens of thousands of visitors. Her youngest daughter Lucille was born in 2002 and still lives at the zoo.
"She is an iconic animal for Zoo Knoxville," New said.
Vets are keeping daily tabs on her to try to make sure she is as comfortable as possible as the end nears and the staff prepares to say goodbye to the oldest living giraffe in the United States.
"I think we want to do what's right for Patches," Cushing said.