On the way out the door for 5 a.m. boot camp, I noticed Wilbur floating sideways, one glassy eye taunting me from beyond a watery grave.

“Wilbur, you quitter,” I mumbled.

We’ve had a rough month with the animal kingdom, encountering some major setbacks on our older daughter’s self-proclaimed journey to zookeeperhood.

A year ago our little blue-eyed negotiator convinced my mom and I to each adopt a stray shop kitten. We named them, tagged them, vaxxed them, and did our Bob-Barker-best to help control the pet population.

They dined on fine chow, were showered in little girl lovin’ and snoozed happily in their heated, winter cat houses.

Scampurr had it made in the shade at my mom’s, while Captain was boss-of-the-backyard at our house.

But in July, Scampurr disappeared. And then just after school started, Captain went awol, too.

Captain had been missing a few weeks when we “won” Wilbur at the school carnival. Nevertheless, I was told, when Captain came home we would need to make sure to keep them separated.

Oh, Captain. Oh, Wilbur.

I was home from boot camp before the girls got up, sitting on the side of the bed as the oldest stretched herself fully awake. My intent to ease her into Wilbur’s passing was derailed by her first words:

“Mama, at 5:75 this morning I had an idea. Could we go to the animal shelter and see if Scampurr and Captain are there?”

Good grief, this kid and her perfectly reasonable predawn requests. (Plus, 5:75? Who can resist that?)

There were two things I knew with certainty: (1) neither cat was at the shelter; and (2) there was no way we’d make it out of the shelter without a pet.

“Tick-tock,” said the clock of inevitable next-cat adoption.

Unfortunately, pinned as I was between the 7 yo’s sound shelter-search logic and the 2 yo’s run-of-the-mill morning shenanigans, I forgot about Wilbur.

I remembered him the same instant I heard the wail of “Nooooooooo!” from the kitchen.

We went to the shelter the next day.

Neither Scampurr nor Captain were around (called it), but there was a little butterscotch-splotched tabby named Sandy who stole my girl’s heart (called that, too).

The card on Sandy’s cage said something about being "a little feral." Probably that’s akin to saying someone is "a little pregnant."

I sized Sandy up, wondering about her penchant for black leather hot-pants and T-birds, thinking that perhaps we might fare better with a Sandra Dee.

But Sandy really needed a family, said my zookeeper-to-be. And so Sandy Slawson she became.

The girl was enchanted with her new fluffy friend, stroking her fur, telling her of their adventures to come, shadowing her as she explored the new environment.

It was lovely. For two hours. Right up until Sandy crawled under the fence, into a bramble, and made off like greased lightning.

We searched. We beckoned. We were totally used by Sandy to bust out of the clink.

We soothed a fresh downpour of little girl tears. I left a message with the shelter, just in case Sandy found herself back behind bars.

Oh, Sandy.

So now we’re keeping vigil for Scampurr, Captain and Sandy. And will soon be crafting a special rock to mark the garden spot where Wilbur was laid to rest.

And before long, our girl will probably be asking about adopting again.

I’m not sure how I feel about our odds, considering we’re trending from a one-year cat, to a four-day fish, to a two-hour kitten.

Just please don’t let the next one be a Rizzo.

Shelby Slawson - attorney, mom, writer, and ever-aspiring trophy wife - is a member of the E-T’s community columnists. She can be reached at shelby@slawsonlawfirm.com.