Bil Browning

The grieving process starts

Filed By Bil Browning | July 17, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Fritz, pizza eating disorder, putting down a pet, saying goodbye, sick pet

Since we started Bilerico Project, my icon picture has stayed the same. It's me and my little buddy, Fritz. Fritz is a rat terrier and he's 16 now. Fritz and I have lived together longer than any other relationship in my life - including my parents.

Greenthing.jpgHis health has deteriorated lately; he's going blind and deaf and he has a huge tumor on his back leg. He's had that tumor for a couple of years, but since he's so old the vet couldn't remove it - the anesthesia would probably kill him. Now it's spread to his tummy area and he's started coughing regularly so we're afraid it's spread to his lungs too.

It's become time to start saying our goodbyes. We've been talking about it for a couple of weeks since he's started coughing. We know he needs to visit the doc again, but we also know what the prognosis will probably be. The problem is neither of us can bear to take him; it's breaking our hearts.

We've been through so much, Fritz and I. It seemed appropriate that before he leaves us, I share some of those stories, so forgive me for being maudlin over the next couple of days. I'm building up to the day and feel the need to share and get some of this out. You can skip them if you'd like; these posts are for me.

Fritz meets pizza. A love affair is born.

Fritz was a stray dog. I found him when I was a pizza delivery driver for Papa John's in Bloomington. I was out on a run and thought I'd hit him with the car. He darted out in front of me, and, while I was pretty sure I'd missed him, he was laying beside the road whimpering and crying.

I got out of the car and checked him out. He was perfectly fine and started running around my feet - thrilled to be getting attention. After he moved in, I found out that Fritz is a big wuss; he cries and yipes any time he gets scared. A guard dog he is not.

I walked around the neighborhood, banging on doors and asking everyone if they were missing a dog. He was obviously pure bred and I knew someone would be looking for him. No one claimed him. They said he'd been wandering around the apartment complex for a few days.

bfritz.jpgI couldn't just leave the little guy there. He's tiny and, well, not a dog meant for the outdoor life. I picked him up and put him in the car with me. I figured I'd go deliver my last pie of the run and then swing by home and drop him off. He could stay until we found his owner or we took him to the pound. Since he's pure bred, I knew he'd be adopted quickly.

As I pulled up to the address to deliver the pizza, I heard snuffling and snorting from the back seat. I stopped the car outside the house and looked back to see what was going on. Fritz had nosed open the pizza box and was standing in the middle of the pizza wolfing it down like there was no tomorrow. He'd eaten almost 1/3 of the 14" pie in the few minutes it'd taken me to drive to the house.

I ran up to the door, explained what had happened and called the store to have them make a fresh pizza for the customer. Since it was a rush delivery, I just took Fritz back to Papa John's with me. I'd pick up the new pie and my roommate (who also worked there) would take Fritz to our apartment.

When we got there, everyone wanted to see the little bugger. Don't tell the health department, but he ran into the store and stayed the rest of the night with the crew. They fed him pepperonis and sausage bits all night. By the time he made it home with me, he was full and as happy as he could possibly be.

Little did I know that would be the start of a lifelong pizza fetish.

Begging for a fix

Obviously, Fritz stayed with us instead of going to the pound when no one claimed him. Since he stuck around, we learned a few of his quirks.

Fritz is obsessive over food. When he's begging for people food he'll shake like a junkie craving their next fix. Honestly, it's kind of gross. Every fiber of his being screams "I want that!" and he's barely able to contain himself. But pizza? That's a whole different level of canine crazy. Even though he's been fixed, he'll get a hardon if he smells pizza.

For our third or fourth date, Jerame and I decided to hang out at my place, order pizza and watch a movie. I warned him about Fritz's junkie shakes. I did.

"It's absolutely disgusting," I told him. "You'll see."

We sat in the floor of my bedroom to eat and chat. (I had roommates!) Fritz snuck through the door, hot on the scent of cheese and pepperoni. First he sat by the door looking pitiful and starved. When that didn't work (since he's always been overweight and hardly nutrition deprived!), he started slithering across the floor to be closer to the box.

If you looked up, he'd stop and look around innocently as if to say, "Who me? I just happened to be passing by and thought you guys might like a little company." As soon as you looked away, he was back to creeping across the floor like a fighter from war movies.

Bit by bit he sneaked closer until he was only about a foot from the pizza box. That delicious tomato smell hit his pizza detector and he started shaking and twitching. Jerame noticed it and said, "Oh my God, Bil. I think something is wrong with your dog."

"Fritz has Pizza Eating Disorder," I reminded him.

Jerame started laughing and we talked about if for a few minutes. The entire time Fritz was vibrating and starting a high-pitched whine. "You know, that's kind of gross," Jerame says. "Can we get him to stop?"

I don't eat the crust of pizzas. It's just a thing for me. I picked up one of my crusts and thwacked Fritz on the head with it. (Hey - it was soft and I didn't want to hurt him!) "Go on! Get out of here!" I hollered.

Fritz ignored me.

I hit him again with the crust. "Get!"

Fritz started to drool. Not only was he not leaving until he got some goodness, he was starting to get off on it. Out popped his little candle and Jerame started cackling and pointing. I threw the crust into the hallway and as he ran after it whimpering like Gollum and his Precious, I closed the bedroom door.

Welcome to life with Fritz and Bil, Jerame.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie

As we draw closer to Fritz's end of life, I find myself trying to make him as happy as possible. Even though he's a big tub of lard that's had to eat diet dog food for years, I give him table scraps and extra dog biscuits. He can't go on car rides anymore since he can't hop in the car or steady himself on the seat. (He wants to look out the window, but that big tumor on his back leg prevents him from standing on his hind feet and balancing himself while we drive along.) I make sure to bring him a french fry every time I go to the drive-thru.

bilsmoke2.jpgIt reminds me of something my stepdad used to say, "When I die I want to go out fat and happy." I think Fritz would want the same thing.

When we make Fritz's vet appointment next week, they'll be running blood work and X-raying the tumor to see how far it's spread. They've already warned us that the prognosis more than likely won't be good. The vet assistant wants to give us an appointment later in the day around closing time to be sure we won't have to sit around in the waiting room dreading the outcome. They want to be able to put him down after his test results come back, if necessary.

"A quick in and out," the assistant told me. "No one wants to prolong the process."

I told Jerame that I had a problem with that idea. If it's Fritz's time to move on, before he slips away into that good night, we're going to go on one final car trip. We're going to Papa John's for a small pepperoni pizza. All for Fritz.

That's amoré.

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My thoughts are with you and Jerame, Bil.

People say it is "like" losing a member of the family, but they are wrong.

It is losing a member of the family.

Take care.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 17, 2008 12:26 PM

There is no creature in the world like a Gay man's dog...

We pamper them...

We spoil them horribly...

We love them too much...

And then we wonder where they get all their strange habits!

Bil, I have had five wonderful (gods) dogs. My favorite I watched as he was born from the mother I owned before him. I also made sure that his end was peaceful, painless and without fear. Don't let him be in misery he cannot explain or understand. Cherish him, and all he is, and will still be to you. Oh, and tell the vet NOT to send you a condolence card. They will do that and it makes it worse! In a month or two consider a trip to your Humane Society to find a new stray to love--when you are ready, not before.

I know that all who read this will be with you in spirit knowing that you will not let your friend suffer.

Edward Fox Edward Fox | July 17, 2008 12:41 PM

In Quebec, when they want to express that someone is completely dejected, they say "His dog died."

I am sorry for you loss and pain. Remember that the pain is great because of the great treasure you had the joy of living with.

My thoughts and best wishes to your whole family,

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 17, 2008 12:48 PM

You brought tears to my eyes, Bil.

I hope it goes well. Best wishes to you three.


My awesome cat died two weeks ago today, and it's been a very sad and hard time for me. Grieving is grieving, no matter what the creature, what the relationship -- we each do it in our own ways, have our own processes and our own needs, and need to give ourselves and each other space to go through it. I love that you are posting about Fritz here, and my thoughts are with you and him and everyone who loves him.



Hi, Bill --- I know how torn up I was last summer when I had to face up to it that the best cat in my life was gone forever. It seems like the grief will never end --- and it never will completely, but you will heal. My heart goes out to you.
--- Allen

I remember doing this with our 17 year old cat, Harry Hobbes, a few years back. It hurts like hell, Bil. Here's to Fritz!


Hi Bil, thanks for sharing your love of Fritz with us. I can tell how much he means to you. And I love that you're gonna give him one last pizza before he goes. That is the worst trip to the vet that anyone ever has to make. At least your little guy will go out in style!


When I was in second grade, a calico cat started hanging around our house. She died two years after I graduated from college. I still occasionally get weepy about her.

I agree with the earlier comment. They're not *like* members of the family; they *are* members of the family.

My thoughts are with you Bil.

I've had to have three dogs put to sleep now and it never gets easy. The first time, I talked to a counselor before doing it. She advised me to plant a tree in his memory. Having something living in his memory. I didn't have room for another tree in my yard, so I planted a shrub instead. I did the same for my other two dogs. I think it does help. If you don't have a yard, you might plant one, or have one planted for you, in a park.

William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | July 17, 2008 7:22 PM

Bil, you're in my thoughts and will be in the coming weeks. We have three new dogs in recent months, an adorable mama corgi and two of her male pups, which seem to be half rat terrier (they were rescued, so no one knows the papa). Still, the place our last canine family member Brassie had in our hearts will never be filled, as much as we love the new members of the family.

Yes, grieving is grieving. I'm sorry to hear about this.

And thanks for sharing those stories.

I know this is a very difficult time for all of you. My thoughts are with you and all who love Fritz.

What a great tribute for a great dog. And if you have to get him his pizza? Make sure it's got extra pepperoni. I'll keep you and Fritz in my thoughts.

Last year, Mikey turned 19, but he wasn't doing well, and soon passed on. He was the last cat my parents adopted while living, and he'd been around for a few months when I first met him. He was around for my parents' dotage, brightened my mom and dad's days when I took him to visit them in the nursing home, made friends with my friends at the house, and finally captured the heart of my wife. We were both crushed when he contracted kidney disease, and both of us were completely in tears when we took him for the final trip, just as we were a couple years earlier when Hannah, our female Amazon parrot, passed on.

Our pets are very much part of our families. I will never forget Mikey, as he was there for me, at my side, accepting me through all my years of tumult. Last fall, a little girl kitty came into our lives, named Sandy, and she has found a place in our hearts (and bed), and Jesse and Mike, the father and son Amazons, are still around. But I'll never forget Mikey the cat, as you will never forget Fritz. Fritz's had a good life, thanks to you, Bil.

I cannot imagine living for any length of time without having pets around. They really are part of the family.

putting a dog down is the hardest thing in the world, Bil. I had to do it with my most beloved dog who was 15 years old and could no longer walk (bad hips).

It makes me cry today- ten years later- to think of that day.

give fritz as much pizza and he can eat.

and get ready to cry a lot.

Thanks everyone. This is going to be a really rough week. I appreciate all of the support. I'll probably write some more stories about Fritz. He's lived a long, crazy life. :)

Stephanie M | July 18, 2008 12:21 PM

My most heartfelt thoughts are with you.

It was 2 years ago on Mothers day of this year that I lost my dog after having her in my life for 14 years. Hardly a day goes by when I don't think of her, and I still cry.

To some the are just animals, to others they are our children, our companions, and even our teachers.

I very much appreciated hearing your stories.

matt swickard | July 18, 2008 5:31 PM

awww. i remember the first time i ever met Fritz all those years ago. He is a wonderful and amazing little man, Bill. I can only imagine how you must be feeling...

my best wishes for you!

May you and Jerame have the strength to do what's needed for Fritz when the time comes until then enjoy your time.I have a dog who's getting older myself and seeing his eyes fading his hearing and hips going is heartbraking.Amy

I remember my first dog having to be put down. I told him "Good dog" so the last words he ever heard were "Good dog." Fritz will know.

I grieve along with you.

Rebecca B. | July 21, 2008 5:20 PM

Hi Bil--I'm very sorry about your dog. We put my first and best cat ever Christie to sleep almost exactly a year ago (she was 18) and I remember just crying and telling myself it was all for the best because by then she wasn't eating or drinking without help and could barely move.

It also didn't help that I lost my father to lung cancer just a few months before Christie died -- they were best friends after I left for college and I sometimes like to think she held on long enough to be there for him.

All the above posters are 100 percent correct -- your dog had a great life and was always loved because of you, and he really is a member of your family. We have many Christmas and Easter pictures with Christie and our other cat, Daisy. And yes, the pet condolence card is pretty hard to take, but I kept it with a few of Christie's old toys to help remember her sometimes. (Getting choked up right now thinking about it)

Know we've all been there and thinking of you!