When a Florida house cat named BearBear went missing sometime last week, owner Linda Craig at first didn't worry.
BearBear often romped about the neighborhood in Gulfport outside Tampa. But as Tuesday melted into Wednesday and BearBear didn't return for breakfast all week, Craig began to think something was wrong. "Once in awhile he didn't show up for breakfast, but not days in a row," Craig, 53, told New Times.
Across the street, meanwhile, Craig watched as a blue tent wrapped around a one-story house. Strange meows and yelps sounded inside the house as a crew from Bingham's Professional Pest Management prepared the house for fumigation.
Neighbors told them they heard a cat, trapped inside the house, crying for help, Craig said.
So the pest control crew opened a section of the tent on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning searched for the cat all over the house, but couldn't find anything.
"Why didn't they just take off the tent, if they knew a cat was in there?" Craig said, beginning to cry.
The crew then closed the tent, and started fumigating. They deluged the sun-baked home with noxious gases for nearly eight hours, until, at dusk, they opened up the tent once more.
"Thursday evening, I heard BearBear at my back kitchen door," Craig said. "I opened up the door and he was just howling. I knew something was wrong with him. Joe at the pizza parlor nearby had heard him screaming and he followed BearBear back to my house.
"Already, his body was starting to shut down, and he had just enough life to come home."
Craig whisked BearBear, 7, to a local vet, but it was too late. They had to put the cat to sleep. "The poison attacked his nervous system, and the howling was him having seizures, the vet said," Craig said. "And he just looked at me, and seemed to say, 'I know I'm safe now no matter which way it goes.'"
Late Friday afternoon, the pest control company called Craig to apologize for fumigating her cat to death. They offered to buy her a new cat, which Craig refused. "They had passerby and people working at the pizza shop who told them there was a cat in there, and they went ahead [fumigating] anyway," Craig said.
She said the local Gulfport police department has called her and is considering whether to file any animal cruelty charges.
"Either way," Craig vowed, "I'm not done with this yet."