MY LASSIE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

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.

Bitsy as a puppy and me at four

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.

Me at around 5 with Beauty as a kitten

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.

Bitsy and me when I was 7 or 8

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.

Bitsy with Dad and me

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.

Bitsy with me, my parents and my grandparents, her whole family

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!

7 thoughts on “MY LASSIE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. For what it’s worth, when I was a kid we didn’t treat our dogs right either. I don’t think my parents really understood what good ownership was. My mother loved them, but she didn’t know about neutering or proper nutrition, or enough exercise, or even the right amount of food. We’ve learned a lot and we are doing better.

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    • I guess there are lots of people out there who get dogs without educating themselves on how to take care of them. But my parents were psychologists. They should have understood that leaving a dog for nine months and then coming back each year would make them nuts.

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      • I honestly don’t think they really thought about pets the way we do. And there was a huge, significant lack of education. My mother adored the cats and dogs, but she really didn’t understand anything and neither did I until I was a lot older. THEN I could look back and think how badly we behaved … but we didn’t do it intentionally. It really WAS ignorance and it was a lot harder to get good information then than it is now. No internet, for one … and vets didn’t have half the information they have now. Almost no one neutered their dogs and no one even thought about it.

        Among the many big changes that has come with technology is a huge amount of information about pretty much everything … and the biggest boom vis-a-vis cats and dogs has been during the past 20 years. My mom died in 1983 … so she wasn’t here for any of this.

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    • Thank you! I am a real dog person now. But it all started with Bitsy. And she’ll always be special to me as my introduction into the joys of dog ownership.

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  2. I was not allowed any pets growing up. My mother cleaned our house every other day (!!). How crazy is that? Can you imagine what would have happened if we had a dog or cat in the house? I think this is why I am so in love with dogs and cats now. I really missed out in my childhood. Bitsy and Beauty were really beautiful.

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    • Ironically, until I was almost twelve, my parents didn’t allow me to have a dog or a cat IN THE HOUSE and in New York with us over the winter. I got my first mammalian full time, live in pet when I was twelve. We got a daschund named Schnitzel and I was over the moon. I was an only child and I referred to him as my brother. I suddenly wasn’t alone in the house as the only non adult person. It was a big turning point for me. I now never want to be without at least one, if not two, dogs.

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