Back in the spring of 2001, my family had been living in Oregon for a few months and were enjoying life there. We had a deep appreciation for the wildlife; my brother and I were fascinated by the lizards, and especially by the western fence lizards (also known as "blue-belly lizards").
For a time, we were fond of a particular lizard whom we had named "Stumpy". Stumpy was an adult male western fence lizard (this could be identified by his more prominent coloring, as the female of the species is less colorful) who resided on the outside of our house; he had lost his tail at some point, hence the name, but it was in the process of re-growing.
Our friendship with Stumpy started when my brother and I caught him one afternoon and found him to be incredibly docile; this is notable because male western fence lizards are aggressive to each other and to humans if the latter handles them. He did not make any attempt to bite us or get away, instead allowing us to stroke him for lengthy periods; it didn't take long for Stumpy to not run away from us and even let us catch him. While Stumpy was obviously a wild animal and did not live inside our house, we cared about him as though he were a pet; whenever we went outside we always looked for him to make sure he was okay.
After two months of catching Stumpy regularly, he vanished one day. My brother and I were deeply upset by this, as he had an established track record of appearing to us daily...and on this particular day he was nowhere to be found! Mum assured us that Stumpy would be fine; after all, he was a wild animal and had lived perfectly well on his own before we had moved to the area. A second day then went by without Stumpy.
Then, on the third day, out of nowhere, Stumpy reappeared! My brother and I were ecstatic at first — our reptilian friend was back — but after Stumpy had been in our hands for a couple of minutes we noticed that he was barely responding. The weather was not the source of his sluggishness as it was hot outside that day; no, he felt warmish to the touch but he didn't want to move. My brother and I then realized what was wrong with Stumpy: he was dying.
By this point, we were both struggling to hold back tears and Mum had called us inside for something. We placed Stumpy on the wooden rails at the front of our house; we hoped that we were wrong and that once we were outside again Stumpy would have recovered and his eagerness to be held would have rebounded.
Alas, that was not the case. When Mum, my brother and I went outside to check on Stumpy, he had died on the railing. This was too much for me and my brother, and we burst into tears while Mum comforted us. When Dad came back from work, he helped us provide Stumpy with a proper burial.
We learnt later on that Stumpy was likely an old lizard. That might have been the reason why he was so docile towards me and my brother; when we encountered Stumpy for the first time, his reign as the dominant male lizard in his area was coming to an end. I've heard that animals often know when it's their "time", and perhaps Stumpy knew that it was his; to this day, I'm not really sure how to explain his two-day absence combined with his return to us coinciding with his death — he could have taken himself off and never returned, but he didn't: Stumpy came back.
Today has been the 12th anniversary of Stumpy's death. We didn't know him for long, but in the time he was prominent in our lives was special to us; he was the first animal my brother and I expressed grief over. We won't forget him.