On mourning Fritz

by Diana
(Ottawa, Canada)

Fritz was my beloved 16-year-old big gray cat. When he showed up in my (and my son's) life, I wasn't expecting him. He originally belonged to a couple who lived downstairs from us; just a wee gray blur of a kitten, full of life and personality. When Tammy, Fritz's owner, asked if I would mind taking care of their new kitten while they were away for the summer, I agreed, and arrangements were made. The original idea was for me to go downstairs and check on Fritz daily, making sure he had plenty of food and fresh water, and to clean his litter box. Of course this arrangement lasted for less than a day; as soon as I left their apartment after my first visit, Fritz began to cry. No, strike that--he didn't cry, he YOWLED. Long, mournful, plaintive wails of despair. He was alone and didn't understand why. I was hesitant to bring him upstairs with me, having my own two cats, not to mention, a dog as well residing with me; but how could I just leave Fritz there, for the next two months? And so I returned downstairs, scooped him into my arms, and brought him up to stay with us until his owners returned.

To condense what could be a very long tale: By the time Fritz's owners returned at the end of the summer, he had bonded completely with us. Not just with my son and myself, but with our other pets too. He got along famously with Tasha and Tiger, my two resident felines; and he took great pleasure in following Misty, my amicable beagle-mix dog, around the place. On any given evening you could go into my living room and be assured to find Fritz curled up with at least one of the other furred family members. If not there, then he would be stretched out under the covers with my son in his bed, his purr audible as soon as you opened the door to the room. That purr of his was magnificent; a great booming rumble-purr coming from deep within his chest, powered by love, and ever present. So when Tammy came back to collect Fritz, he protested. He didn't want to go back downstairs with his owners; he was content where he was, having adopted all five of us now, at least in his mind, his family. It broke my heart to see him leave, and yet I knew he didn't belong to us, so he had to go.

Events took an unlikely turn several months later. Fritz was not happy living downstairs, and he let his owners know it. Those loud yowls of his began once again, even though Tammy was usually at home with him, and they became so persistent that eventually Tammy?s husband couldn't take it any more. He began putting Fritz outdoors every time he began to cry, and of course, this pleased him to no end. Fritz would promptly run out the door, go to the back of the building, and then up the back stairs to our balcony, where he would sit and wait for one of us to let him in. Of course I protested, telling my son that we couldn't allow Fritz to keep coming to our apartment; he had his own life downstairs and we couldn't encourage him to keep returning. Yet he did, and no matter how long we refused, Fritz would sit outside and wait, patiently, for one of us to spot him.

Then one day my son came to me and said, "Fritz is out on the balcony again." But just as I was about to remind him to not let him in, Stephen said, "Mom, I think there's something wrong with him." Quickly I ran out and brought Fritz inside, looking him over, and it was immediately evident that something was indeed, very wrong. He could barely walk. He half shuffled, half dragged himself across the kitchen floor. And his body looked strange--his belly was hanging low to the ground, misshapen, distended. I looked into his eyes and saw a combination of both fear and pain, and yet, when I scratched his head, his rumble-purr began immediately. I quickly ran downstairs to get Tammy, and after a rushed phone call to her husband who was out of town, we rushed Fritz to my vet.

As it turned out, Fritz had been severely injured, most likely hit by a car, and he had a tear inside that was close to 4 inches long. Tammy was in tears, as was I and my son, but Tammy's husband, who was once again contacted, wanted nothing to do with it. "Drop him off at the animal shelter and tell them that he's a stray," was his order to his wife. "We can't afford to pay for this." As soon as I learned this, I pleaded with Tammy, telling her that she couldn't do this to Fritz. He would be assessed at the shelter and simply be put to sleep. In desperation I offered to pay for the necessary surgery to fix him, but on the condition that my son and I keep him, since Tammy and her husband were planning to move away within the next couple of months anyhow. She agreed, and after two surgeries and $2000 (borrowed from family members, as I was still looking for a job myself) Fritz came home to stay.

That was the beginning of my life with Fritz. So much has happened in the years since then, other wonderful animals have come and gone, including all three of my original pets; but Fritz endured, remaining by my side throughout. He aged gracefully, as many cats do; we graduated from that small apartment to a house with a big backyard, which Fritz loved; my son went to college and moved away; but Fritz was always there, that great rumble-purr of his resounding loudly.

Then, two days ago I came home from work and noticed that something wasn't right with Fritz. He still greeted me with his purr, and when Kaya, my dog now of 14 years, began her anxious "I want to be fed!" dance on the floor, Fritz joined in, perched on his ledge and announcing with his loud yowls that he too, was hungry. So I fed the two of them, but as they ate I noticed something odd. After every few bites of food, Fritz would turn his head sharply to the right, almost as if he was being startled. So I waited until he finished his dinner, then put him on the floor and he began walking in slow circles, like a car stuck in a perpetual right-hand turn.

Thankfully the vet agreed to see him right away, and I took him in. After an examination and some testing, the vet stated that Fritz could have an ear infection, as his ear was a somewhat red inside, but he could also be dealing with something much more severe, such as a brain tumor. Of course she couldn't say for certain, but because of his symptoms and their sudden onset, was quite concerned. Mind you, Fritz had been through this once before, many months prior, but the symptoms came and went quickly, and were not as severe. The prognosis that time was never positively determined, but the vet at the emergency clinic had thought he'd suffered a small stroke. So with this happening again, I was worried. The vet gave Fritz a mild sedative and antibiotics, said to call and let them know if he wasn't improving, and I took him home.

That night it seemed the sedative didn't have much of an effect. Fritz seemed to not be able to get comfortable; his front leg would constantly reach out, his head would turn to the right, and he vomited. I took him to bed with me, determined to help comfort him in some way, but rest for both of us was eluded. For a short while Fritz did manage to settle down and sleep, once I cradled him into a position that seemed to help, but for the most part he was not doing well.

In the morning I got up with Fritz and immediately knew, as soon as I set him down, that he was much worse. He could barely stand; he couldn't lift his hind leg to get into the litter box; he couldn't even stand to urinate, and wound up doing so lying down. His head movement had become more pronounced, and every little sound startled him. So as soon as the clinic was open I rushed him off to the vet's again.

The prognosis was grim. The vet stated that we could try to give him strong sedatives to see if that would calm him down, then start the antibiotics again in the hope that it was an infection from which he would recover; but she felt that the more likely scenario was a brain tumor. I wrestled for a few moments over what to do; and what kept coming to my mind was that, I simply didn't want my friend to suffer. So through a flow of tears and a shaking voice, I decided to have Fritz euthanized.

And now I sit here with those "what if's" haunting me. Did I make the right decision? Was it a brain tumor or some other brain affliction that was causing this? Or was it an infection that could have been successfully treated? In thinking back, over the past year or so Fritz did sometimes scratch at his ear, sometimes crying as he did so. Was this a chronic infection that I'd ignored or somehow missed? He hadn't seemed to be doing it for some time now, and so it hadn't even entered my mind when I had taken him in to be examined. Did I do the right thing? Or did I rob my wonderful friend of his last years?

I suppose this is one of those things that will haunt me forever. It is ironic that I'd seen so many people doing the same thing after their pet had passed away; the torment of thinking, "This was my fault," and I would reassure them that it wasn't; that it was their pet's time to go. But can I say the same thing now, after losing my wonderful gray soulmate?

I miss his presence and that loud, magnificent rumble-purr of his is forever etched in my heart.

Dear Diana,

I am so sorry for your loss of your beloved Fritz. From your story alone, I can tell that you gave him an incredible life and loved him very much, and am certain that he loved you just the same.

Making the decision to euthanize a pet is always difficult, and questioning that decision later is completely normal. Given the severity of his symptoms, I believe you made the right decision.

My wish for you is that you'll find comfort in knowing that Fritz is at peace now. Embrace those amazing memories, and forever hold that rumble-purr in your heart.

With deepest sympathy,
Dr. Neely

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Thank you
by: Diana

Thank you both for your condolences and comforting words. I know that many of us go through that self-blame period after losing a pet, especially when it comes so unexpectedly. But in sharing feelings with others who do understand, who have themselves felt that indescribable bond with one of their own and know the depth of pain all too well, it does help in the healing process. So thank you again...it is deeply appreciated.

On mourning Fritz
by: Sarah

We live, we love, we give, we learn, & ultimately we grieve.
Rejoice in the wonder and joy that is Fritz & will always be. Celebrate the love you shared.
You enjoyed a very special relationship with an extraordinary cat; thank you for sharing it with us.

You must not torture yourself with "What if's"; you cannot change what is past, you can only change what is now.
It is rarely an easy decision; and the other end of it - "Did I leave it too late/ did my cat suffer because I was not ready to let go..?" is just as awful as "could I have done more; did I act too soon?"

Reconcile your doubts & know that you prevented further distress & suffering.

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