Everyone may not understand the value of a pet, especially that of animals other than cats and dogs. Creatures such as fish are often treated as a decoration rather than a living being that deserves care and attention. While the average person may not dare to ask for your dog’s collar and bowl within a week of your loss, many would see nothing wrong with requesting a fish tank or terrarium whose occupant is no longer with you. This sort of societal apathy towards the lives of animals is part of what makes the loss of a pet so painful. Not only have you lost something that you loved and that loved you unconditionally, but with so few that understand, your options for support are limited. Even on pet loss forums, discussing the loss of a more unusual animal can and will get you hateful messages about how you should be thankful it wasn’t a dog.
My pet frog Fitzwilliam passed away recently. He’d become lethargic and started eating less, and before I could bring him in to the only vet in the county that even treated amphibians, he was gone. I spent that day unable to move from my couch, barely able to eat or speak.
I find it difficult to express my grief in writing. I loved that little guy. He was a baby, my baby, and now he’s gone. Of course I blamed myself. That’s part of the bargaining phase, right? Maybe if I’d been able to act quicker, I could have found him another vet. Maybe if I’d been more meticulous in cleaning his tank, he would never have gotten sick in the first place. Maybe if I had been better, I don’t know how, but if I’d just been better, he would still be here. He was only about six months old, just a baby. He should have had at least a decade ahead of him. Why couldn’t I give him that?
I had no one to talk to. Less than a day after losing him, people suggested simply getting a new frog as if he was an object to be replaced. For some people, moving on with a new pet might be best, but I couldn’t do it. I broke down in tears just seeing a stuffed frog in a store. I couldn’t handle having something that looked like him, sounded like him, but wasn’t him. It would be unfair to expect another animal to live up to him when the pain is still so fresh.
The truth is, I have been through a lot this summer, and in his own way, Fitz was there for me through everything. When I was feeling down, he was content to hop onto my hand and sit with me for as long as I needed. When I needed something to do, he had plants to mist and a water dish to refill. When I needed a distraction, he was there, perched on his favorite branch and ready to be admired. Even when I put on sad music, he would croak along to it. His favorite band was The Mountain Goats.
I am certain that many readers will see this as the ramblings of an overly emotional person with unhealthy attachments. Maybe they’re right, and they can go right back to drafting a letter to the editor about how I don’t understand real pain and other people have things so much worse than I do so I should just shut up. I just want you to know, he mattered to me.