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Steimke column: Remembering Ariel

This has been a very sad week in our house. We lost our 17 year old Maltese, Ariel. She had been in declining health for over a year – a few hospitalizations, weight loss, failing eyesight and hearing; and advancing doggie dementia. We had said all along that as soon as it became apparent she was in pain and recovery was not likely we would make the hard decision.
Working the brain/heart connection is tricky, and no amount of planning can make these passages any easier. Support from family, friends, and neighbors is priceless.
We have lived in three different cities since Ariel came into our lives and have, in each, had the grateful good luck of caring and capable veterinarians. Here, we had the wonderful vets and staff at Rowan Animal Clinic who have come to know Ariel quite well over the past few years and were able to help ease us through the goodbye door.
When Miss Ariel was younger, she was frisky and fast. Foolishly, there were times when we were less than totally vigilant and she got the upper hand. Like the time she rolled in damp mulch while we were distracted in conversation – it took two days to pick all the mulch out of her hair; or the time all of our neighbors helped chase her across a field when she got off leash – she thought we were playing a game; one she fully intended to win.
Once, she helped to get her “daddy” into trouble when I was out of town and he had promised to watch his diet and not eat his favorite food – fried chicken. When asked if he had kept the diet plan, he replied, “You don’t see any evidence of fried chicken do you?” True, there were no fast food or deli boxes in the trash – but new evidence belied his words when fried chicken crumbs showed up in the little girl’s beard and busted one doggie daddy.
She loved popcorn and Cheerios almost as much as chicken and would stand on her hind legs and walk around the kitchen begging. My brother likened her upright rear view to a “little bitty abominable snowman”.
She loved to sit in sunbeams. In our home in Virginia, there was a spot at the top of the stairs with the perfect sunbeam for much of the afternoon. When I came home, she was seldom at the door with tail wagging to welcome me; instead, I would look up and find her perched in her sunbeam, lying watch and seeming to rule over her “queendom.” In her own good time, she would descend the stairs to let me know her next need.
As she aged, like all of us, she became less fast and frisky. But she always remained the ruler of her domain and we, like the proper humans we were, supported her in that role. Perhaps she could have had a little more discipline, but spoiling her was somehow fun. Though spoiled, she was a good girl and seldom failed to follow a command.
She had attitude. Standing in front of the sofa in the evening she would bark a demand to be picked up to sit, not at our side or in a lap, but in between us. She didn’t jump up on the furniture; she didn’t need to – we were always there to pick her up. When she was in her preferred spot on the sofa, adequately separating us, she would bark a defiant single shout to let us know we had done well in responding but could have been a little quicker. Even in old age she continued her “outspokenness” – she often expressed her opinions at the vet’s office and everyone knew when Ariel was in the building.
At each turn in the house, she is still here – her pictures – one on the Christmas tree that I will un-decorate and put away today, a towel in the bathroom with the figure of a pretty, white Maltese and the saying “a house is not a home without me”; a purple leash, a pink sweater, her bed. All of these will soon be put away, helping ease the moment to moment pain. But, for a time, the empty sadness that is hard to describe will reappear frequently. We are lucky to have made the decision to adopt another pup – he will help to fill the void.
Loss is a part of life and it hurts. Experience doesn’t make us any better at it, just a little more likely to know what to expect. We may protect ourselves by avoiding relationships that have the potential to give us pain – I can understand that. But, the joy of the journey is most probably worth the pain of loss at the end; a pet in the house is necessary for me as long as I am able to provide the care and love.
Miss Ariel gave us laughter, love and pleasure beyond description. I hope there is a place in heaven for pets, and I hope she is romping with Sissy, Shadow, Max, Wulfie, Bandit, Pee Wee, Taffy, and all of her other dog and cat friends and family. And I hope that she knows we miss her.
Eunice Steimke lives in Salisbury.

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