My first dog was a magnificent collie who looked just like Lassie. Her name was Bitsy and I was four when we got her as a puppy. Everyone thinks their dog is extraordinary, but this dog did some amazing things.
She understood language commands. For example, she was a herding dog so she would chase me around and nip at my heels. All my socks had holes in the back. I think this foot nipping is part of how dogs herd sheep.
Anyway, if I was outside playing, my mother would tell Bitsy to “Go get Ellin” and “Bring her home”. Bitsy would then find me and herd me home, right to my mother. Sometimes I protested and begged Mom to “Tell Bitsy I can stay out a little longer!” Mom would tell Bitsy it was okay and she’d run off or start to play with me.
We also had a cat, named Beauty. Bitsy and Beauty were good buddies, but my mom was terrified of cats. When Mom went outside to visit her mother’s cottage on the property, she was afraid she’d run into the cat. She’d tell Bitsy to “Go find Beauty”. Bitsy would herd the cat to where Mom was standing and ‘hold’ her in place with her long snout. That way Mom knew it was safe to walk across the grounds.
One night, Bitsy performed a very Lassie like rescue. A small fire broke out in the cottage where the caretakers and Bitsy lived. Bitsy kept barking and scratching on the door until someone came and found the growing fire. Bitsy saved two humans, two dogs and a cat.
Once in all the years we had her, my father yelled at Bitsy. Dad was her favorite human and she took it badly. She slunk off and lay down on her bed. She went into a deep depression and wouldn’t move or eat for two days. My Dad was getting frantic. Finally he lay down on the floor with her and kept telling her he loved her. Only then did Bitsy get up. She got so excited, she jumped around Dad and did their characteristic ‘dance’ together – she put her paws up on Dad’s shoulders and he danced her around. Dad never forgot that incredible bonding experience. He also never stopped feeling guilty about yelling at her and he never stopped missing her when she was gone.
But we did not do right by Bitsy. My parents didn’t know much about dogs. So they had Bitsy live at our summer-house in Connecticut with the property’s year round caretakers. She was not allowed in our house. On top of that, we were only there for three months in the summer. So Bitsy had my parents, me and my grandparents in her life for one-quarter of the year. The rest of the year she stayed with the caretakers who were paid to take care of her when we weren’t there. They didn’t mistreat her, but they weren’t real pet parents taking care of a beloved pet. She missed us terribly.
Bitsy was justifiably very neurotic. She was a chronic car chaser. Despite two minor accidents with cars, we could not get her to stop. She was eventually killed by a school bus when she was only five years old.
As a dog savvy dog lover now, I’m horrified that my parents would treat an animal that way, especially one who they supposedly loved. But to them, it was ‘inconvenient’ to have a dog in a New York City apartment. Mom didn’t want a dog shedding all over the house. So why didn’t she get a low shedding dog? So this was how we did things.
I’ve never stopped feeling guilty about Bitsy, even though I was just a kid at the time. I was nine when she died. To add to the trauma of Bitsy’s death, my parents were afraid to tell me she was dead, so they waited eight months and only told me when we were due to go back to Connecticut for the summer. They lied to me for eight months when I asked about Bitsy throughout the year — which made me feel even worse!
I have to give Bitsy major credit for making me into the good, conscientious, sensitive and knowledgeable pet parent I am today. So all the dogs I’ve had since Bitsy owe her a debt of gratitude. I never want to feel guilty about how I treated a pet ever again!