The Truth, Mainly - 04/17/2000

A eulogy for a headstron, disobedient, one-eyed dog
by Leon Satterfield

We're rid of most of his stuff now-the unopened cans of prescription dog food, the leashes, the raggedy blanket, the foppish red sweater he wore only once, and then just long enough to be laughed at.

But we still hear his toenails clicking across the hardwood floor at 3 a.m. and we still go to the window when we hear what might be a beagle baying.

When we got our one-eyed beagle with the headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, we named him Ned because of the potential for humorous rhyme. If he seemed hungrier than usual, we could ask "Is Ned fed?" If he tried to sleep with us, we could say "Get in your Ned bed." And if he slept too late in the morning, we could ask "Is Ned dead?"

Now Ned is in fact dead, and my wife and I are afraid it's our fault.

Because we told him that he was not, under any circumstances, to die.

In all his 12 years with us, Ned never did what we told him to do and always did what we told him not to do. So we should have known better than to tell him not to die.

When he was six weeks old, we bought a little paperback called "Beagles." The chapter with the straight-faced title "Obedience Training" suggested we shoot Ned with a plastic water gun when he was disobedient, so we did. And when we both went off to work the next morning we told Ned, "Don't make a mess on the floor, don't unroll a roll of toilet paper around the dining room furniture, and don't chew up things you're not supposed to chew up."

When we got home, he'd made a mess on the floor, unrolled a roll of toilet paper around the dining room furniture, and chewed into very small pieces the plastic water gun and the "Obedience Training" chapter from our little paperback.

When Ned matured a bit, we told him not to climb the chain link fence, not to hide bones under the sofa cushions, and never ever to run around the yard with our underwear from the dirty laundry basket.

All of which he did within the next week, grateful to us for the suggestions.

We further instructed him-in firm voices-that he was not to steal turkey breasts off the Thanksgiving table, was not to dance the Beagle Boogie on the sanctified grave of our previous (and recently canonized) dog, St. Sherman, and was not to signal us he'd like an open car window by emitting offensive emissions.

You're getting the picture now, aren't you?

We told him never to attack Buick LeSabres breaking the speed limit on Adams Street. We told him to leave porcupines the hell alone.

The result was that the LeSabre broke Ned's pelvis and the porcupine deposited 16 quills in his snout and tongue.

So we should never have told Ned that he must not die.

And when first his kidneys and then his liver failed, and it became clear that his Final Disobedience was at hand, we gave him explicit instructions: If you must die despite our wishes, (1) do it without sentimental embellishment designed to evoke our tears, and (2) do it alone without forcing us to participate in the event.

He violated the first clause two nights before he died. We'd been to a concert and when we got home, we couldn't find Ned. Could it be, we thought, that he has finally obeyed us, that he has gone off to some fine and private place to die in solitary dignity?

Of course not.

We searched the house and yard, then found him in the basement, curled up and snoring softly in the dirty laundry basket half full of our soiled clothes, surrounded and apparently comforted by our scent.

And two days later, he violated the second clause: he stopped walking (he'd stopped eating days before), and all day long he lay a pitiable public spectacle in our yard. But he refused to die without our participation. So we loaded him into the back seat and took him for his Last Ride to the Vet.

To spare Ned the humiliation of being carried not only out of but into the office, the vet came out to the car. When the needle hit the vein, Ned sighed a long, long sigh and departed this Vale of Noncompliance. He went out as he came in, a one-eyed beagle with headstrong personality and mismatched jaws, insubordinate to the end.

Now two weeks later, my wife picks at the Ned hair still on the bay window seat cushion.

"Such a horrible little dog," she says. "Such a helluva little dog."

Then we walk down the street to look again at our neighbors' four beagles. They're very appealing beagles, but their jaws come together nicely, they have two eyes each, and they seem relatively obedient.


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

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