You Know, Every Piece Of Sentimental Inspiration Doesn’t Have To Be Debunked: Of Dogs, Death, And “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

There was a nice, heartwarming photo yesterday of George H.W. Bush’s service dog lying by his casket.  This was accorded the usual sniffling interpretation, which is fine: the image is moving. Nonetheless, Slate felt it necessary to publish “Don’t Spend Your Emotional Energy on Sully H.W. Bush/He’s a service dog who had been with the president for six months, not his lifelong companion.”

“It’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him [for 6] months. It’s a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet). But it’s a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket. Is Sully “heroic” for learning to obey the human beings who taught him to perform certain tasks? Does the photo say anything special about this dog’s particular loyalty or judgment, or is he just … there? Also, if dogs are subject to praise for obeying their masters, what do we do about the pets who eat their owners’ dead (or even just passed-out) bodies?…”

Oh, thank you, thank you SO much for that lovely image.

Of course the dog doesn’t understand that Bush is dead, or that he’s in the casket, or anything. So what? Anyone who knows anything about dogs can figure that out. Why was this snark necessary?

There have, in fact, been cases where dogs showed touching devotion after an owner’s demise. One horrible example is Hachiko, an Akita that continued to sit in the same place, at the same time, at a Japanese railway station waiting for his master to come home for nine years, not knowing he had died unexpectedly at work and would never return. There is a movie about this true story, and a more depressing film it is hard to imagine. Eventually a statue was erected to the dog at the station.

No, Sully isn’t displaying the same devotion, and really, why should anyone care? If the image of a dead man’s dog lying by his casket provides comfort, or solace, or closure, or any emotion at all, why its it necessary to immediately explain that it’s really hogwash? Believing that the dog misses his master harms nobody at all.  And, you know, maybe he does.

I immediately thought of this iconic photo…

It is usually described as  John Kennedy, Jr., on his third birthday, saluting his assassinated father’s casket as it passed by. The touching image was put on the cover of magazines and front pages. No journalist then had the bad taste to point out what was, or should have been obvious: the child had no idea what was going on. He didn’t understand death. he didn’t know his father was in that casket, and he certainly didn’t know he was about to be buried and he’d never see him again. Maybe his mother, Jackie Kennedy, said “Salute your father.” Maybe he was really saluting the soldiers, as he had seen his father do.  Does it matter? The image encapsulated the nation’s grief.

The more I think about John John and Sully, the more I think that it’s one of those situations where the advice of the old newspaper editor at the end of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” applies: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

35 thoughts on “You Know, Every Piece Of Sentimental Inspiration Doesn’t Have To Be Debunked: Of Dogs, Death, And “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

  1. Has some scientific group definitively proven that a dog can’t detect a decaying but reassuring scent from inside a coffin? Does he need to show his work with respect to the concept of mortality?

  2. No Jack, every piece of sentiment doesn’t have to be debunked, just those that have to do with Republicans. I read my share of sneers and outright hate-spew when Reagan died, and do we even need to talk about the venom poured on Scalia when he died? Now, when Clinton dies it will be a media love-fest.

        • Just out of curiosity, do you really think that?

          I think that the circumstances lend themselves to such speculation. There were Texas laws, customs, and common sense practices that were violated before, during and after Scalia’s death. The connections of those involved, and the benefits they gained afterward are… suspicious. Living near to the tragedy, I hear things the press does not print, or WANT to print. Money trails have not been investigated, motives have not been debated, and the entire episode was swept under the rug quite quickly.

          In short, it stinks like a fish on ice, and all they had to do to avoid the appearance of impropriety was follow the law and customs for a suspicious death.

          This is typical of Democrat hubris: even when there is no reason to do so, and they are actually innocent, they lie and are opaque when transparency would reveal that there is no issue. See ‘Hillary, fainting episode’ for a wonderful example.

  3. I’ve had animals as pets all my life. Do not be so sure the animal does not understand his companion’s passing. I’ve seen empathy or at least something approaching emotional concern displayed in both dogs and even cats.

    I have seen 180 degree changes in socialization of pets resulting from them being nursed back health from the brink of death. In this case it was a reclusive cat, unwilling to be touched. She lived many years under a bed or sofa and getting her to a vet was like trying to capture a Tasmanian Devil. A year ago she was found nearly lifeless. The vet was not optimistic. I spent 3 days and nights with her giving her fluids. On the third night she looked like she would not last. At one point she convulsed in what looked like an epileptic siezure. She expelled a vile green sputum and went silent as I held her. I held her throughout the night checking occasionally for signs of life. The next morning she began to take water; then some soft food. It took several weeks but she regained her weight and now seeks me out for attention and affection.

    Granted, Sully may not be able to verbally communicate his understanding but we often underestimate those we cannot understand.

    Nonetheless, even if you cannot accept that Sully or other animals lack the ability to understand, taking a swipe at the photo shows a demonstrable lack of emotional intelligence.

  4. This was sort of what I was trying to get at in my sloppy three liner hot take.

    Way better than mine though.

    I was going to make a comment that Slate desperately wants to directly trash a dead Republican, but even that may be a bridge too far for them, but that they chose instead to metaphorically kick his dog. But they weren’t even doing that, they were pouring as much spite as they could on legitimately grieving citizens. I never thought citizens could really become attached to a politician like that, even seeing the iconic image of the african american man weeping at news of FDR’s passing, until Reagan died in the summer of 2004. I had just finished my military training at A&M (though I still had a couple years to finish my degree), but dang it if I didn’t get a bit misty eyed at Reagan’s passing…and he’d only been President for my first 7 years of life.

    Well, Bush the Elder has a special place in Aggie hearts. The man had no ties to Texas A&M, yet arbitrarily chose to dedicate his time and love to the school in his later years. I remember my sophomore or junior year (my recollection has faded), in a formation run with one of the Cadet Companies, we ran out towards his library. However, when I first went there, other than the library, I had no idea how much he loved the university and was involved.

    As we jogged, a old man came fast walking or slow jogging around the bend. He smiled and waved at us and I thought to myself how much he looked like former president Bush. Only to find out that was him and he apparently liked exercising early to see the Corps of Cadets units out exercising also. But, a mere 15 years ago it seems like a mist to me and who knows how much my recollection has faded or been embellished.

    Needless to say, Slate can get lost.

  5. Our daschund used to shake uncontrollably when I’d take her to the vets in what I didn’t realize were the last years of her life. Tell me she didn’t know she was dying. Our other daschund, for the entire year she outlived the first one mentioned above, whenever she returned to our house would run into the master bedroom closet and check the dog crate to see whether her deceased “sister” had miraculously re-appeared while we’d been out. And don’t tell me a Sully couldn’t smell a dead Bush 41 in that casket and wasn’t unhappy he, Bush 41 was dead.

    • Dogs understand death. They understand loss. This is part of their heritage, their instinct.

      Who knows what Sully felt? Let the dog alone, you cowardly bullies.

      PS: I at first thought Sully was a reference to Sul Ross, (affectionately called ‘Sully’) who has a prominent statue on the Texas A&M campus (I got engaged within feet of that statue, under the Engagement Tree)

      I understand the dog was named after the hero pilot, ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who landed Flight 1549 on the Hudson after a double bird strike cost him both engines.

  6. You won’t find me ever questioning the emotional honesty of dogs.

    My Dear 93 1/2 year old Father’s Black Lab Kate was my Good Golden Girl’s BFF for over 10 years.

    For quite some time after he put her down at 15 in June/2016, when we paid our daily visit she’d canvas the house several times looking for her, always appearing confused when she couldn’t.

    ”I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” Bill Murray

  7. One horrible example is Hachiko, an Akita that continued to sit in the same place, at the same time, at a Japanese railway station waiting for his master to come home for nine years, not knowing he had died unexpectedly at work and would never return. There is a movie about this true story, and a more depressing film it is hard to imagine.

    Oh hey, that was also an episode of Futurama. I wonder if that was inspired by that story. You’re right – it’s considered one of the most heart-wrenching episodes.

    (if you can watch that video without crying – you have no soul)

    As for a more depressing film… I hear Grave of the Fireflies is one of the saddest ever.

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