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The true story of Lassie, a dog that I had initially disliked but who became a very loyal and faithful friend and a very much missed member of our family.
My stepfather kept Welsh Border Collies. When one died, after a suitable period another Border Collie would be purchased. The dogs were always called Laddie and the bitches were called Lassie.
So when Laddie the sixth died at the age of 12 my mother decided that they would not have another dog. My stepfather was in his late 60’s and too frail for all the exercise that a Border Collie would need. But he desperately missed having a dog, so she eventually relented and decided that they would look for another. My mother spotted an advertisement in the local paper – a 2-year-old Border Collie bitch needed a good home – so they decided to take a look at her.
I had suggested that a small dog, like a Cairn or a West Highland White terrier might be more suitable, but to no avail.
Lassie (yes, she was already called Lassie) was a working sheepdog. Her owner, a farmer, had died and his son was selling the farm and needed to find a home for the dog. So Lassie, not surprisingly, came home with my mother and stepfather.
When meeting her for the first time I was very apprehensive. She had roamed freely around the farm; she was not housetrained, in fact I doubt she had ever been inside a house, had never been on a lead and was very very timid indeed. In fact, she hid behind a chair and there she stayed, no amount of coaxing could get her to come out. Were my elderly parents, who lived in a small bungalow, going to be able to cope with this dog?
After a visit to the vets for spaying and all the necessary injections, my stepfather took on the task of training her to walk on a lead. It will never cease to amaze me, even though her life had changed so drastically, how well she adapted to her new lifestyle and surroundings. Border Collies are very intelligent and she was soon house trained as well. She loved my stepfather and he loved her – they were inseparable. Everywhere he went, Lassie also went.
On one occasion, when my stepfather went to one of his army reunions, I offered to look after his dog. Lassie never liked me very much, and I must say at this point that the feeling was mutual. But I could look after her, take her for walks, and feed her, after all it was only for one day, I could manage this. When she came into my home, the first thing she did was jump onto my brand new sofa. This was not allowed. But could I get her off? She growled at me. I tried to coax her; to be nice to her, to bribe her with food and finally shouted at her and tried to remove her forcibly, but had to remove my hand after narrowly missed being bitten. So there she stayed all day until my parents collected her.
In 1984 my mother died unexpectedly. My stepfather coped very well by himself and he had his beloved Lassie. Then when Lassie was nine years old my stepfather died. So now I was left with a problem – what was I going to do with his dog? I learned that she had bitten his great niece, a young child, very badly. Having seen the photographs, I am quite sure that if they had reported the matter to the police, the dog would have been destroyed.
I decided to take her home with me until I could come to a decision about her future. I had at this time a one-year-old Doberman dog, Max. And it was immediately clear to me that these two dogs were never going to get along with each other. On the couple of occasions when they accidentally came into contact with each other all hell broke loose. And one fight in the kitchen resulted in my being bitten whilst trying to separate them. And my cats were not too keen on a dog that was continually trying to round them up! Enough was enough, Lassie had to go!
I made enquiries at a local animal shelter. I was informed that it was doubtful if they could find a home for a nine-year-old dog, particularly as she could not be re-homed with children. Everyone wanted puppies, or at least young dogs. If I signed Lassie over to them, she would most probably be destroyed. I also considered taking her to the vets to have her put to sleep myself, after all as someone pointed out to me, she was 9 years old, she might only live another year or two! If I had taken this option, I would have found it difficult to live with my conscience. Lassie was my stepfather’s dog, his pride and joy who he loved very much; somehow doing such a deed would have been disloyal to his memory.
At this point, a solution was offered to me. I had been taking Max to obedience classes and the trainer offered him a good home.
Thinking back, it has surprised me how quickly Lassie adapted to life with me. Her lifestyle had altered drastically once gain. She changed completely, she became a different dog, loving and loyal. Even the cats became used to her. In fact Mia (a brown Burmese) used to come with us for walks. Lassie in front, followed closely by Mia and myself at the rear. Of course, we had to stop from time to time for Mia, when she would decide to climb a tree. And Lassie never once tried to climb onto my sofa.
At this point I also found something quite by chance that Lassie liked to do. On one of our walks, we passed a group of young lads playing football. Lassie chased after the ball; when one boy kicked the ball to the other end of the pitch, Lassie was there too. The boys were quite happy to let her join in as long as she did not overstay her welcome; so we limited the football sessions to one five minute session once a week.
And from then on, when we went for walks we took a ball with us; throwing the ball for Lassie to retrieve provided her with plenty of enjoyable exercise. I also built a mini agility course for her in my garden. This was not entirely successful. I went over the jumps, whilst she went underneath!! (not daft, my dog)
Lassie kept in good health until she was about 14 years old when she suffered a stroke. She was unable to walk; I had to carry her everywhere. The vet told me she would probably suffer further strokes, which she did. The first stroke was the worst and it took six weeks for her to recover, but she was never quite the same again and settled down to a quieter life.
Her eyesight deteriorated. She was now 16 years old. She happily pottered around the garden, but walks had to be very short indeed. Her black and white face was now grey with age, her eyes cloudy, she became incontinent. Despite this, she always had a healthy appetite. One afternoon, I looked out of the window to see her lying down in the garden. She had fallen at an awkward angle and I thought that she had died. I rushed out; when I came close, she raised her old head up to me. I helped her up and brought her into the house.
A decision had to be made which I found very difficult indeed. For all of us who keep animals it is a decision that we dread – we hope that nature will take its course without us having to intervene. But life isn’t always like that, it is difficult to be objective about the well being of a loyal friend.
It is a decision that we can sometimes too easily put off, especially if our pet is still eating well. We hope that our pets will get better, or at least not get worse. Because our pets mean so much to us and have spent so long as part of our family that we can’t face life without them and we put the decision off.
It was made worse because she was the last living link to my parents. This dog, who initially I had disliked, had become a very loyal and faithful friend.
The vet called at my home to collect her. I gave her one last cuddle, with tears streaming down my face, before the vet took her away. Although she was not suffering, she was in the first stages of liver failure – her condition would begin to deteriorate and she would not have quality of life. This was the last time I saw her; my only regret is that I did not ask for her ashes, so that I could have scattered them over the field where she had joined in with the football games.
I have often been asked would I recommend this breed of dog as a pet. The answer is probably yes with some reservations. The breed is well known here in the United Kingdom to Sheepdog Trial enthusiasts who watch the breed work with uncanny skill. This breed is quick-minded, highly intelligent and faithful although extremely sensitive to harsh rebuke. Welsh Border Collies need something to do –obedience work or agility courses are excellent. They are happiest when they are working. They do not like to be left on their own for long periods. Although I never left Lassie alone with young children, a Welsh Border Collie puppy might be suitable to be kept with children, but keep in mind that this breed will instinctively nip the ankles of small children due to their herding instincts.
I often have a dream. My stepfather is in a field full of poppies and is surrounded by lots and lots of black and white Welsh Border Collies. I am quite sure that if there is a ‘doggie heaven’ Lassie is up there somewhere too.
Lassie died on 1st September 1993, aged 16 years 4 months.
Lassie's story brought a tear to my eye. I liked the way you didn't sugarcoat the experience of dog owning.
LexiJo 27.03.2002 18:09
Thanks for sharing your story, I feel a bit tearful now. I lost my dog Pax two years ago, we got her when I was six, I still expect her to be waiting for me and still sneakily drop food under the table. We have not had another dog since either.
tigertom 06.03.2002 14:53
Very nice op. Touching. Almost makes me want to get a dog (which would make me girlf happy) Tom.