Over the years they became more and more family-like, learning their respective roles, and they never aged. Ariel never became an unruly teenager, Butch never stopped teaching her new things, and Athena never grew tired of the two of them leaving her behind.
When Butch and Ariel hunted, Athena would sit on the porch and watch for the rabbit or squirrel or field mouse or whatever run by and if it did she would start yipping like crazy to let them know where to find it. And here they'd come racing by while she wagged her tail.
Athena was the first to get sick. She never really let on. She just went up into the woods one day and didn't come back. We thought maybe she went back to the home where she'd come from. Butch and Ariel weren't quite the same though.
One day we looked out the upstairs window and saw something on the edge of the cornfield. We thought maybe it was a deer but when we went out to inspect it was Athena. She had indeed gone into the woods to die, but Butch and Ariel would not have her out there all alone. They went and found her and brought her home.
The next day Mom and I took her and gave her a proper burial not too far from the house, and Butch and Ariel came along. I guess once they knew where she was they were okay because they never bothered her again.
Butch got sick when I was in high school and he had to be put down. I remember Mom crying about that.
When we moved from that house we asked the new owners if they wanted to keep Ariel since we didn't have anywhere to go with her. They said yes and the last time I saw her was a few years after we had moved and I went to see our old house. The owners weren't home but Ariel was asleep inside, and was fat. Maybe she was going to be a momma and have her own family.
Now I've got my own family. We have two black labs. Big Dog, who is big, and Sue, who is my nemesis. There are a ton of dogs who keep showing up around here. They're everywhere and I can't stand them. Pulling into the driveway is like parting the seas. There's barking and hair and jumping and wet noses all over me as soon as I get out of the car. I keep trying to find something I like about any of them, but only Big Dog has endearing qualities but they don't make up for the hair I sweep up daily.
I think Big Dog and Sue are looking for their Athena. Maybe once their family unit is established things will calm down a bit, but I'm not counting on it.