My parents were big fans of the TV show, Lassie. At least I think they were; why else would they name a short little black-and-white rat terrier after a big, long-haired golden purebred dog trained to perform on a television show?
Regardless of Lassie’s identity issues, I could not have asked for a more loving, protective, caring pet during my childhood years. Lassie may never have saved a little boy from drowning in a well by running for help, but she was always there for me to offer unconditional love and comfort. Memories of my childhood would not be complete with our faithful little dog. Looking back at family photos, Lassie was included in many of them. She was part of our family and no photo album would be complete without her.
Summers were spent with my sister, Brenda, while our parents went off to work at a nearby factory. Left to our own devices, Brenda and I would often pretend Lassie was our third sibling. The poor terrier was subjected to being dressed in doll clothes and paraded about the neighborhood in an old baby carriage. Lassie gamely complied and played the part of our baby sister with aplomb, never barking to give away her true identity.
At night, Lassie slept in our room, taking turns laying on my bed and Brenda’s, perfectly content to cuddle atop our matching Barbie comforters. Indiana is notorious for its severe summer storms but Lassie was always there to comfort us, even though she was just as frightened as we were by the lightning and thunder and wind and rain. Late at night while the storm swirled and moaned outside and my parents directed us to take safety in the basement, Lassie was right there with us keeping us company by the light of a candle and flashlight.
One summer afternoon when I was about twelve a storm blew in unexpectedly. My parents were not yet home from work and it was up to me to comfort Brenda while the wind howled outside our windows. When the electricity went out, I tried to make a game of it with my younger sister. We made a tent out of our Barbie blankets and pretended we were at a party with Princess Lassie as guest of honor, complete with rhinestone tiara. Our dog gamely complied and sat huddled with us in our little tent while we ate crackers and drank Kool-aid. The three of us were still there when my parents made it home from work, blowing in with the wind and rain. Although we were frightened, Lassie’s presence in our tent helped us get through the worst of the storm.
Unfortunately, Lassie could not live forever. I will never forget the morning I found Lassie lying on the floor, unmoving. At first I thought she was still asleep but one touch of my hand to her still body indicated that she was cold. Lassie would never wake up this time; would never again jump up and lick my face or spend another afternoon in a Barbie blanket tent.
It was one of my first lessons in the concept of life and death. It was a traumatic experience for me to realize my beloved companion was gone forever, and I was the one who’d found her. At a time when I most needed comfort, Lassie was not there to offer it.
My family held a little funeral service for Lassie morning. As my father dug a hole in the back yard, my sister and I placed the rhinestone tiara on Lassie’s head and tearfully said our goodbyes.
Life went on and we eventually got another dog, but the memories of our first pet and the lessons she taught me about giving and loving and caring will never go away.