The Truth, Mainly - 08/15/2005

Ned, the one-eyed beagle, revisited
by Leon Satterfield

"Wake up," the dog tells me at 3 o'clock in the morning. "I've got a bone to pick with you."

It's Ned, the one-eyed beagle with the headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, the dog who adopted my wife and me in 1988, the dog who never obeyed and who committed the ultimate act of disobedience by dying on us—even after we explicitly told him not to—five years ago.

"Ned?" I say. "Is that you come back from the dead to give more orders?"

"Who did you think I was?" he says. "Marley's ghost?"

I ignore his sarcasm.

"Why," I ask, "are you waking me up in the middle of the night?"

"This," he says, thrusting a clipping—there's only a little dog slobber on it—from the Aug. 7 Washington Post in my face. It's a piece by Paul Duggan called "A Requiem for Rover: Md. Funeral Home Sends Off Cherished Pets With Rites Fit for a Human."

So I read it.

It's about a guy named Clifford Neal who for the past 20 years has been running a funeral home for deceased pets—complete with linen-lined pet coffins made to order. And they're not just boxes. They're waterproof caskets and they have embroidered pillows for the deceased. And they partially open so the deceased can be viewed one last time.

They're not just for dogs either. Neal has sold caskets for cats, hamsters, rabbits, ferrets, birds, and an iguana named Buddy.

They all get buried in Neal's pet cemetery called Sugarloaf Pet Gardens in Montgomery County, Md. The burial plots are marked by 8-by-16 inch slabs of Georgia granite, complete with chiseled epitaphs like "Thank you for the joy" and "You are loved and missed."

There are about 1,500 pet graves at Sugarloaf. And most of the funerals cost from $600 to $1,000.

"We're not saying goodbye to Chuckie," the Post quoted Neal saying at a recently funeral for a pug. "We're saying 'So long, dear friend. We look forward to when we'll all be together again.'"

"So," I say to Ned's ghost after I finish reading his clipping, "I suppose you're laying a guilt trip on me for not giving you a thousand-dollar funeral."

"Are you kidding me?" he says. "You put me in a cemetery called 'Sugarloaf Pet Gardens' and I'll never talk to you again. Besides it would be alarmingly out of character for a tightwad like you. Thrift, thrift, Horatio."

"You're plagiarizing Shakespeare again," I say. "Have you no shame?"

"Everything I know about plagiarizing," he says, "I learned from you."

"You always had a tart tongue when you were alive," I say, "so I guess it was naive of me to think dying might have changed that."

"Heh, heh," he says, not without a bit of sarcasm.

"Too bad for other species," I say, "but we all acknowledge that humankind is the Creator's finest work, that all other species—including man's best friend—are now and always have been inferior creatures put on earth to amuse and serve mankind."

He tries to gag himself by putting his paw in his mouth.

"Hah!" he says. "As a species only one among you has clearly seen the relative merits of dogs and humans."

"And who," I say wittily, "might that be, Mr. Smarty Pants without no pants on?"

"James Thurber," Ned says. "And you just ended your sentence with a double negative and a preposition."

"Since when," I say, "do you know anything about English grammar and James Thurber?"

"When good dogs die," he says, "we get to go to school and learn about language and literature. And we all get A's."

"Oh sure," I say. "And James Thurber?"

"His best cartoon shows two dogs about to fight," he says, "and one of them is telling the other 'You're a low-down human being.'"

"It's a cartoon," I say. "You don't go to a cartoon for truth."

"Then listen to this," he says. "Thurber writes 'I resubmit that if you stopped ten persons on the street and asked them, "The history of what species is one of greed, double-crossing, and unspeakable lechery," six would promptly reply, "Man," three would walk on hastily without a word, and one would call the police.'"

"So what's your point?" I ask.

"My point," he says in a voice that's beginning to fade away along with his image, "is that I don't want to spend eternity in a heaven that human beings have invented. What they find pleasant would make me die all over again—of boredom. And I'm certainly not hot to be buried with the same egocentric assumptions humans are buried with. Id rather be…."

As his voice goes silent and his image dies away, I back off to avoid the lightening bolt he's sure to be struck by. That's when I wake up.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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