Arabella Marie Neal (199?-2007)
June 28, 2007
Over the weekend, Diane and I found ourselves making a very difficult decision. We had our pomeranian/chihuahua mix Arabella put to sleep due to a heart condition that suddenly turned worse.
When we adopted Arabella almost four years ago, someone from the pet adoption agency told us that she had a heart murmur, but nothing serious enough to merit euthenasia. However, Arabella had fainting spells every so often over the past year, and they became bad enough in April that a veterinarian put her on a diuretic. She seemed to return to normal for a few months, but things changed rapidly starting on Friday. When taken outside, she would pass out, and her energy and appetite declined throughout the weekend. Arabella hardly did anything on Sunday, so we took her to an emergency vet hospital that night. She seemed to perk up, but the diagnosis from the vet who saw us didn’t sound good. We left her there and received a call around 1 AM. The vet told us the details about her heart’s condition and our “treatment options.” None of them sounded good, because the vet said that Arabella could go on various medications, but she wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. After many tears that night and the following morning, we called the vet with our decision.
Prior to Arabella, I never had a pet other than fish, and Diane had limited experience with dogs. Nevertheless, after we got married, we decided to start looking for a dog. Diane and I saw Arabella at a PetSmart adoption “fair” in September 2003, where she quietly sat in the lap of someone at a table. We figured that someone had already adopted her, especially since she looked adorable. When we inquired about her, someone else said that no one had adopted her, but that we could walk around the store with her for a “test drive.” Arabella followed us around, and we decided to take her home. We heard about the heart murmur, but she seemed like the right dog for us otherwise. Her teeth were also in bad shape, and her mouth would somehow occasionally contort into a ferocious-looking shape that exposed her front teeth. We called this expression her Dick Cheney, though she had not a mean bone in her body. She would bark when unfamiliar people came to visit, but she calmed down and easily befriended anyone who gave her attention.
Arabella did give us a few problems. That explains the middle name Marie, which we would employ for the times she got into trouble. Going to the bathroom in the appropriate places seemed to pose the greatest challenge; the most amusing incident occurred just as we settled in for Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house that first year. She would also have unexplainable barking fits at 3 AM for a few days straight, but they would stop as quickly and strangely as they started. Nevertheless, I believe that her problems may have been due to age, and her general demeanor seemed appropriate for Diane and me. Compared to other dogs, Arabella seemed aloof and quiet. She showed little interest in toys, and we could almost swear that she viewed other dogs as crazy; she would remain relatively placid as fellow canines tried engaging her in play or (occasionally) other “activities.” Since she lived with cats previously, Diane and I suspect that Arabella picked up her relative air of detachment from them, as well as the tendency to engage in self-grooming behaviors usually associated with felines (most notably the licking of paws).
Although Arabella showed little interest in other dogs, she loved attention from people, who universally found her adorable. Some even mistook Arabella for a puppy due to her size. Of course, Arabella seemed especially keen on seeking attention from Diane and me, especially when we had other things to do. When Diane would settle on the sofa to grade papers or read, Arabella would jump up and place her head under Diane’s hand for petting. During The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, she would jump between us and take in the political hijinks. Other times, Arabella would just lay down on the other side of the sofa, or perch on the ottoman of our leather chair. When Diane would work at home, Arabella would curl up behind the chair and sleep, or she would act as guard in the event that someone rang the doorbell peddling junk.
Dogs occasionally drive their owners crazy, but they can also be the best companions. Besides acting as a guard or member of our “pack,” Arabella seemed to know when one of us was upset. She would look on with a mixture of confusion and concern. She also may have known that she didn’t have long to live, and that she wouldn’t be able to do the things that made her happy.
Whether one chooses euthenasia or allowing a terminally-ill pet to die naturally, there’s always an element of playing God and presuming to know what the pet’s own wishes might be. Euthenasia seems selfish because one doesn’t want to take care of a sick pet, but so does keeping a pet around to salve our consciences. One can only make a decision that seems right for everyone involved, including the pet. Everyone we told seems to think we did the right thing, and I’m certain that many others would agree. If only we could reach such a consensus about our fellow humans, who actually can communicate their final wishes to the appropriate people.
A few hours after we saw Arabella for what would be the last time, Diane mentioned that Arabella might have “told” her that she wanted to go. (A few other “coincidences” occurred, though I won’t detail those here.) I want to believe that Arabella somehow knew that we would have to make a difficult decision about her, and that she tried telling us that it would be okay. I also want to believe that she has entered another realm, and that we’ll meet again, some sunny day.