jeanine fritz
The yellow-haired 7-year-old girl whose garage was filled with kittens called one of them Pinecone. This was because his fur stuck out in little brown and black spines whenever she waved him in front of the family dog.

Weeks later, the tiny tabby was brought home to our college apartment and placed in my hands. Like an overanxious kid at a birthday party, he promptly hurled. My roomates' dog, Kelty, decided not to eat the kitten after a while, and instead tossed herself to the ground and let the kitten pretend to beat her up. Soon, the kitten grew to be a happy, fearless badass, renamed Nigel — that cat went to eleven.

Nigel wasn't afraid of much. He'd go into neighbors' houses, plopping on the couch in front of the television, like some deadbeat friend who comes over uninvited and then eats your food. He'd swat the pizza out of your hand, lick the top of your garlic bread when you weren't looking, and slurp up your cereal milk while you'd refill your coffee.

Not that he didn't have his warm side. No matter where he was — taunting a raccoon behind the trash, dicking around in front of the 7-Eleven with the other teens, or punching a squirrel for touching your jack-o'-lantern. He'd come running when he heard the car park, yowling and happy to see you. He wouldn't help carry the groceries, of course. It was more fun to swirl in circles between your feet as you navigated stairs.

And oh, that muthahfuckah was loud. If you left the door shut, he'd yell at you. If you didn't scootch over on the couch during football, he'd yell at you. If you fell asleep and stopped petting him, he'd yell at you.

But he always knew when I was having a bad day and needed him to stop fucking around.

Everyone thinks their cat is the best, I know. But did your cat ever convince you to buy that ladder you needed by climbing onto the roof while you were at work and refusing to come back down? Every single day for a month? Did your cat ever wake you up in time for work by batting a dead bird around your bare feet? Did your cat ever pee on all of the clothes you'd just thrown off after a vacation, because he was glad you were back and probably shouldn't ever leave again? I'm guessing not.

Nigel died last week. As anyone who's lost a pet will know, the grief can hit like a brick wall of mouth-breathing and tears. I'm trying to take a lesson from the little kitten who was a Pinecone and became the kind of cat unafraid to stare down an 8-point buck, chase after nine raccoons, or sneakily follow me into a 7-Eleven at midnight, just to see what was going on. The little dude was brave, and kind, and I'm so thankful for the 15 years we had together.

Go hug your little buddies and tell them thanks. They put up with a lot and ask for so little in return.