With a Heavy Heart

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Sophie Suiter
Tom Suiter
Many of you will understand what I'm about to write. I need to write this to start my own healing process. I'm trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. People who love their pets, as I do, with all their hearts will certainly know what I feel.

Friday was a beautiful December day and a vacation day for me. I wanted to spend it doing the things I like most -- my morning walk, shooting basketball, stretching, drinking my fresh fruit smoothie, reading and maybe taking a nap.

My wife Julie was going to the ballet with my mother, so that left Friday night open for me to watch the Hurricanes and the Appalachian State game -- both of which I was looking forward to seeing.

Around 4:30 p.m., I got in bed with my book and quickly fell asleep -- my day was going as planned. Before she left for the ballet, Julie let me know that one of our kitties, Sophie, whom we also call Snuff or Snophers, was outside and asked me to check on her.

We have two beautiful Persian cats named Chloe Claire and Sophia Snow. Sophie does like to go outdoors while Chloe will but won't stay long. I will tell you, I love them both as if they were human.

We always felt very safe in letting our cats out. We live in a secluded area, the middle house in a cul-de-sac on the top of a hill, well off the main road with very little traffic -- and neither kitty ventures very far off the back deck area, which is surrounded by woods.

Sophie is a big eater, and I thought for sure she'd show up sometime after 6 p.m. ready for her dinner. Now, I wasn't alarmed when she didn't, because sometimes she liked to hang out underneath the deck or maybe take a short kitty adventure into the woods.

During the rest of the evening I checked the back door every 20 minutes or so, expecting to see her. Each time I would call her name -- but no Snophers.

When Julie got home at about 11 p.m., we both started to worry and we began to search. This was very unlike Sophie, but still no Snuff. During the course of the night, we both slept very little. We were up periodically checking the door hoping to see her sweet little face peering in, wanting her treats and our love.

I couldn't sleep I was so worried. Finally at about 7 a.m. Saturday, dressed warmly I went to comb the woods surrounding our house. I called her name over and over "Sophie," "Snuffers," but no response. Julie joined me, and we searched all morning. We were worried but kept telling ourselves that Sophie, an independent sort, was just having an adventure.

Around noon, I went to the front of the subdivision to walk and post a sign about our lost kitty.

I came back, walked the woods some more, calling her name over and over but never a meow. I decided I'd shoot some basketball in our driveway, hoping Sophie would wander back, while Julie went to walk around the subdivision.

I was back in the house doing some stretching when there was a tap on the window. There was Julie holding Sophie -- and for about 5 seconds I can't describe the joy that filled my heart. Then, I saw the tears in Julie's eyes. I rushed outside. Sophie was dead.

Julie had found her in a ditch at the entrance to our cul-de-sac.

I can't describe the awful feeling that came over me, the ache that my heart felt. I screamed "NO! NO! NO!" My eyes filled with more tears than I ever knew I had. We were both so devastated. Our Sophie, so beautiful even in death, had apparently been hit by a car. How and why it happened, we'll never know.

Sophie was a black Persian. The black Persian is the most royal of Persian cats -- very smart but very shy. You had to earn her trust, and we had worked hard to do just that. Julie, who has a heart as big as Montana, was her special person; she and Julie shared a rare bond that few humans have with their pets. But Sophie and I, too, had a bond.

She was my friend. She had the most intelligent eyes and the kindest little face. She looked more like a human than a cat. As I came into the room she would roll on her back so I could rub her tummy -- and oh, could she purr. And she loved to play. Julie and I were the only people who got to know her. She was so shy around others. We were all she needed. It took a while for this kitty to trust us, but when she did, there was nothing but love -- always a peaceful, loving presence, a calming influence in our lives.

My love for Sophie and her sister, Chloe, have had such an important impact on my life. Because of them, I learned that animals have feelings and know love as well as pain and suffering. Both kitties have a sense when I need their affection, and they are always there. I too have that sense about them. They know and understand.

Because of my love for them, I became a vegetarian, a vegan to be exact. They made me see animals in a different way. People are always asking me why I use animals in my "Play of the Day" segment. My answer is because I love all animals and think they make good television, but really its because of the friendship my kitties give to me. It's a way I try to honor them.

Julie and I spent hours Saturday and Sunday, shedding tears and recalling memories of Sophie. I'm not ashamed to tell you how much I have cried and continue to grieve. Trying to seek answers for what happened, how it happened, wondering why she had wandered where she never had before. It just wasn't like this shy kitty to leave her comfort zone. We kept asking, "What if …?" and blamed ourselves for not paying more attention.

This special cat, so pure of spirit with the warm, kind eyes didn't deserve to be killed in the most common way, by a car. And what tears us apart is that we weren't there for her. She died alone. That rips at our heart.

Our gratitude goes out to the person who kindly took her off the road and laid her in a quiet spot off the road in a dignified and respectful way. They had no way of knowing whose cat it was, but they showed her respect, because they knew it was someone's pet.

We buried Sophie today, and I will tell you it was one of the saddest days of my life. Words cannot describe what she meant to Julie and me. She was like our conscience. Only someone who loves and really knows his or her animals understands.

She was just nine and was in perfect health. I loved that dear sweet Snophers with all that I had. She was my friend who loved me no matter what kind of day I had, no matter how many mistakes I made on television. She depended on me, but I think I depended on her more. A loving purr with a sweet face to greet me when I got home. A friend to sit with and who would listen to me with those alert eyes but who wouldn't talk back. She never asked for much but gave our family so much in return. Hers was an unconditional, sacred love. She loved to be held. What we would give to hold her one more time. Oh, if only …

I will go to work this week with a very heavy heart. Sports, or really anything else, won't seem important, because I have lost a dear companion.

Only an animal guardian will understand.

It has been an honor and a privilege to know and love Sophie Suiter.

(First posted on Dec. 17, 2006)

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