Like you, when I heard that a man at Ehi, in the Volta Region of Ghana was going to give his dog a grand funeral, after keeping it in the mortuary for weeks – the same mortuary where they keep human corpses - I was appalled. “What a foolish thing to do,” was my initial reaction. “Ghanaians have gone really crazy,” I said. My curiosity made me search for and listen to an interview the man, Mr. Stephen Atatsithe gave, giving his reasons. I then took a few days to reflect and actually watch a video of the funeral. Now my conclusion is: Mr. Atatsithe is a genius and has pulled off a brilliant coup which even the great American entertainer, P.T. Barnum would be proud of.
As P.T. Barnum said: “There is nothing like bad publicity.” Mr. Atatsithe explained that animals, like humans get sick and need a hospital but there is no veterinary hospital in the Volta Region. His motivation for the grand funeral was to raise funds for a veterinary hospital. If Mr. Atatsithe had dug a hole behind his house and buried the dog, no one would have heard of him. The grand spectacle of a funeral has made his story circulate all over the world, making it likely, with proper follow up, that the necessary funds will be raised and the hospital built. If I were advising him, I will tell him to create a website with photos of the dog and videos of the funeral with a “go fund me” or donation portal where people all over the world can go and make donations towards the veterinary hospital. He will then be the one having the last laugh.
On further reflection, I think it is insincere for us to mock this dog’s funeral when we spend huge amounts of unnecessary and sometimes borrowed money to organize grand funerals – or is it parties?- for our departed ones. Even those in the family we do not care about when they are alive, are assured of a grand funeral when they die. This is not to equate a dog with a human being. We have even reached the point of absurdity where we hire pall bearers, at exorbitant fees to dance with our corpses! We forsake simple coffins for elaborate ones which we then dump into the ground. Maybe Mr. Atatsithe was trying to prove to us how absurd our human funerals are. Ewes have a song which goes: “A human being is nothing, a pig which roams the garbage dump has more value than a human being.” This song is sung at funerals to show that the human body has no value after death, whereas a dead pig, at least, becomes food. This is to encourage all to live their lives to the fullest and to seek to do their best in life.
Most people will consider a dog a mere animal that does not deserve to be mourned. However, for some, dogs are heroic creatures that have aided in bettering or saving lives. The story is told of adults going to the farm and leaving a dog home alone with a young child sleeping in a hut. When the hut caught fire, the dog dragged the child outside, saving its life. There are stories of dogs placing themselves between their masters and venomous snakes, getting bitten in the process, and dying in place of their masters. We all know of seeing-eye dogs that help the blind and St. Bernards in Switzerland rescuing people lost in the Alps. There are dogs that can sense epileptic feats several minutes before they occur, giving the person time to move to a safe place before the seizure. Without the dog, such a person may have a seizure in the street and be hit by a car, or in a body of water and drown, or in a fire. There are dogs that detect cancer cells and are used for diagnoses. There are also family dogs that have seen small children being attacked by vicious dogs and thrown themselves between the child and the dog, saving the child’s life. In all these situations where a dog may have saved a person’s life, who will say that a funeral for such a dog is out of place? Mr. Atatsithe explained how useful the dog was to him and his mother and has every right to mourn any way he sees fit – especially if the whole act was for a good cause.
John K. Akpalu, Esq., LL.M. (Harvard)
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