The Truth, Mainly - 01/11/1999

Travels with Ned tough on the senses
by Leon Satterfield

In the last—and most emphatic—of his seven rules of etiquette for attending funerals, Mark Twain tells us, "Do not bring your dog."

But ever since I read John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley," I've been hooked on the idea of taking my dog wherever I go.

Even to funerals.

Charley, you may remember, was Steinbeck's French Poodle—born and raised in a Paris suburb—who knew "a little poodle-English," but who responded "only to commands in French." His real name was Charles de Chien, and he and Steinbeck made an enviable pair traveling about the country in a pickup-camper named Rocinante after Don Quixote's horse.

I was so taken by the romance of it all that I forgot Twain's advice.

The trouble is that our dog isn't an elegant French Poodle named Charles le Chien. Our dog is a one-eyed Beagle with a headstrong personality and mismatched jaws. His name is Ned.

He stays home when we go to local funerals. But any time my wife and I travel to funerals so distance we have to be gone overnight, Ned goes too. Lest you think us odd, let me quickly add that he never goes into the church with us. He stays in the car and bays mournfully during the service. Sometimes in our pew we hear him. Sometimes those in other pews hear him. Sometimes even the guest of honor hears him.

I long ago gave up the notion that I was Steinbeck and Ned was Charles le Chien. But we continue taking Ned on overnight roadtrips because we don't know what else to do with him.

Our friends all know Ned so of course they won't keep him while we're gone. We've considered putting him up at one of those dog-boarding places, but Ned knows how to make himself an unwelcome guest. He bays.

On three occasions—when we got him fixed, when he jumped a '79 Buick coming down Adams Street, when he blew the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee by cutting sharply to his left in pursuit of an agile squirrel—he's had to stay overnight at the vet's.

All three stays ended prematurely.

"You can come get him now," the vet would yell into the phone, trying to make himself heard over Ned's baying. "He recovered a lot faster than we thought he would."

So despite Twain's advice, we bring our dog. Travels with Ned are hardly anything like travels with Charley.

When we were bringing him home from the Beagle puppy farm, he gagged a couple of times, then barfed all over the front seat.

As he grew older, he quit barfing—but only on condition that we let him sit in the driver's lap. When he learned to operate the turn signals and the windshield wipers, we banished him to the back seat.

He insists we keep one of the back windows open a couple of inches so he can stick out the tip of his snout and get Beagle goober all over the outside of the glass for the amusement of other interstate travelers.

If we forget to open the window, he has ways of reminding us.

First he puts his snout to the top of closed window and bays, getting Beagle goober all over the inside of the glass for the amusement of other interstate travelers.

If that doesn't work, he uses his Ultimate Weapon. He emits an offensive emission.

Ned's a talented Beagle. He can emit offensive emissions at will.

Beagle offensive emissions make mega-pig operations smell like a nosegay of lilacs. Beagle offensive emissions warp your sunglasses. Beagle offensive emissions inside a closed car make you consider bailing out at 75 mph.

So we surrender to Ned's olfactory terrorism. We open his window.

It's OK in nice weather, but when it's below zero, we get chilled.

I try to imagine what Steinbeck would have said to Charles le Chien. "Plus de flatulence terrible! N'est-ce pas?"

I tell Ned that on our next trip we'll take our '76 highway-orange Dodge pickup and he'll have to ride in the back.

I show him an LJS clipping from last summer about a German shepherd named Copper who, forced to ride in the back of his owner's pickup (no reason given, but I'm thinking offensive emissions), was sucked out by a ferocious crosswind on Highway 2 near Nebraska City.

"Any more flatulence terrible," I tell Ned, "and you'll be riding in the back of the pickup and get sucked out by a ferocious crosswind."

But he knows an empty threat when he hears one. He knows we'd never be so gauche as to drive to a funeral in a '76 highway-orange Dodge pickup.

Even one with that certain je ne sais quoi air that comes with a one-eyed Beagle goobering up the windows and emiting offensive emissions.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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