As a child in a family of cat-lovers (at one point our family owned five cats), I’ve been through my fair share of pet deaths.
Typically, I’m not squeamish when it comes to these things and I never understood it when coworkers or friends would spiral into days of depression after they lost a kitty or puppy.
That is, until Fritz died last summer.
At age 23, I adopted a little gray kitten from a PetsMart. It was a “gift” for my boyfriend at the time.
Fritz was always a special little guy. Curious and bold, he grew into a big, fat cat who strutted around with a nonchalant and confident attitude.
Of course, he was gentle as a lamb. He always chirped affectionately during neck-scratching sessions and he would let me hold him in my arms; the same way I cradle human babies. I trained him to lick my nose to signal when he wanted to be released.
He learned to turn door knobs with his paws, he slept on top of the kitchen cabinets, and he played fetch.
In short, he was a cool dude.
Fritz and I split for a few years when the boyfriend and I broke up. But, I always wanted the special guy to come back into my life.
(The cat, not the ex.)
The ex moved out of town and Fritz needed a home. Lou and I took him in.
I’m a staunch believer in keeping cats indoors. But things didn’t go well when Fritz came home with us. For two months, we tried every trick in the book to get the guy to live peacefully with our other two cats.
Unfortunately, his boldness turned to bullying and he completely terrorized the house.
After countless cat fights (I have a massive scar to this day) and a very traumatic attack on one of our other kitties while she was using the litter box (she pooped on the living room floor right after), we finally agreed he had to go…
We set up a kitty oasis in our laundry room with a bed, food, and water.
Turns out, Fritz loved the outdoors. The first time we let him out, he immediately rolled in the dirt and then climbed one of our grapefruit trees.
Every night for six months, he would visit our backyard porch for dinner, scratches, and water with ice cubes (his favorite in the summer).
Then he stopped showing up.
We made posters, alerted his microchip manufacturer, visited the shelters daily, and longingly stared out our windows for two solid weeks.
“Should we go pick up his body?” I asked our irrigation guy when he stood at our door, cat collar in hand, delivering the news that he had found Fritz.
“Oh…no, honey…he’s just maggots and bones.”
After the irrigation guy left, I wailed into my pillow. The convulsions and moaning were so uncontrollable, it sounded like I was hysterically laughing.
Our mischievous and clever Fritz had found a shady, cool spot: The irrigation pipe at the end of our block.
Lou reassured me over and over again that the irrigation water came in a strong rush and that the death was quick.
For the first 48 hours after we found out about Fritz’s death, however, there was nothing anyone in this world could say to convince me that his death wasn’t anything short of my baby Fritz trapped in a small pipe; water slowly trickling as he panicked and clawed at the walls until his paws were bloody; screaming and panting; desperately wondering why his mommy wasn’t saving him as the water level climbed so just his little nose and wet whiskers peeked out from the surface…choking and hacking as he gasped for air…
After days of sobbing intermittently and a very depressing phone call to tell my ex that I killed his cat, I finally emerged from the fog of grief.
But for those first 48 hours, I was down in that pipe with him. Bloody paws and all.
So, to any coworkers or friends who have received anything less than my sincerest sympathies during your pet death grieving, I offer my apologies.
I so totally get it now.