A few years ago, a kitten showed up on our doorstep.
He had six toes, tuxedo colors and a personality much bigger than his size. As he wandered from house to house, the whole neighborhood fell in love with him. We already had three cats, and the last thing we wanted was another. But he quickly went from sleeping on our back stoop to sleeping wherever he wanted.
We called him Fritzie. Whenever you called his name, he came running as fast as he could. He walked with us to the bus stop in the morning, then home again. He threw his toys in the air and chased them. He followed us around like a dog.
Fritzie lived at our house for most of that summer. Then one day we tried to call him in the house before dark, but he didn’t come.
I looked through the house. He wasn’t there.
I went up and down our alley, calling his name.
The next day I searched the blocks near ours.
I knew he couldn’t have gone far, but there was no question: Fritzie was gone.
Losing a pet is not like losing a person. They feel like a member of the family, but we know they’re not. We feel we have to win their love. When they run, it’s like they’re saying we’re not good enough, that there is a better life out there.
Some days I imagined Fritzie out in the world, roaming free, finding some new, better owner. Other days, I pictured him cowering under a bridge, trying to cross a busy street, or scavenging for food in a world that would never love him as much as we did.
When a pet runs, we are reminded of all they do for us.
Not long after Fritzie disappeared, I was in a park by our house when I saw two young girls running and looking up in the trees. When they stopped, I asked what they were looking for. They pointed up to a medium-sized bird.
“Our parrot flew out the front door.”
“Can you call him?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “He’s not trained.”
There was no hope of getting their bird back, but they followed him anyway. I understood the urge.
When I was their age, I had a dog that ran away all the time. He would walk out to the edge of our unfenced yard and look back to see if anyone had heard his chain jingle. If not, he would keep going. Sometimes he came back. But more often I would wander up and down the alleys, calling his name, worried that I would never see him again.
I remembered my old dog as I wandered up and down alleys looking for Friztie. I spent weeks riding my bike and calling his name.
I put up posters. I chased leads. I found other cats the same color.
After a month, I resigned myself to the fact that he was gone, but I still kept looking. The year had been a hard one, and the idea lodged in my head that nothing would be right until we found Fritzie. Like he was a missing piece in the puzzle of our lives.
I knew this wasn’t true, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. So I searched every alley within half a mile of our home, knowing that a few seconds could make the difference.
One day I stopped at a hot dog shop near where we lived. I asked if I could put up a flier. The next day I got a call from one of the cooks, saying he’d seen Fritizie in an area where I hadn’t looked for him, across a busy street.
I crossed the street and stapled a “Lost Cat” sign on a light pole. A few days later, the phone rang.
“I think I’ve got your cat!” the woman on the line said.
My daughter and I went up to see if it was him. When we opened the door, there he was, six toes and all.
He’d been in her home almost the entire month. To her, he’d been a stray needing help, just like he’d been to us. But over the summer, he’d become so much more than that.
“We called him Floydie,” the woman told us.
It was a good name. But it wasn’t his.
Frank Bures is a writer and author who lives in Minneapolis. With Fritzie, of course.