The grieving process starts

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

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.