Lassie, the Wonder Dog

I wonder about Lassie, myself.   Aside from the question of whether Lassie being a boy (because male Collies don’t shed their neck ruff periodically like the females) has contributed to the gender confusion of the last decades, was Lassie really so smart?  The character of Lassie, I mean, not the amazing, Weatherwax-trained collies.

Sunday evening, eating our cold, left-over roast-beef sandwiches, we could see the television from the kitchen table.  Six o’clock was time for "Lassie" and we watched every week.  My recollections of this childhood ritual include my father saying (virtually every week), "That dog is so smart, if she just had a typewriter she could explain what happened to Timmy in a hurry."  Jon Provost as Timmy.  I envied him his faithful canine companion. What a wonderful dog!

As an adult, I watched these shows in re-runs on Nickelodeon with my kids.  I certainly have a different perspective now.  Man, what is up with that Timmy?  The fact that he gets nothing to eat but milk and cookies must have his blood sugar through the roof, but even that doesn’t explain the scrapes this kid gets into.  Every week he is trapped by crazed pigs, falls in an abandoned mine-shaft, or steals a baby elephant from the circus. I mean, it is always something with this kid.  One show has an incredibly feeble-minded neighbor hiring Timmy to baby-sit.  Before long, there is an eagle flying around inside the baby’s room.  Timmy is this vortex of disaster… with a dog.

Now let’s look at Lassie’s gig.  What does she actually do?  She follows Timmy around when he wanders off.  At some point, Timmy is immobilized by disaster, so he’s not going anywhere.  Lassie gets tired of waiting and goes home without him.  When she arrives, Mom and Dad notice that she is alone and start yelling, "Lassie, is Timmy in trouble?"  This is a no-brainer, as Timmy is always in trouble. If he is not right there in front of you with his hair combed, you can bet he is spreading anthrax or falling off a cliff or something.  So they’re yelling at the dog and the dog starts barking, indicating to Mom and Dad, that yes, indeed, Timmy is in trouble.  They get wacky and start rushing around and calling the sheriff.  Lassie barks some more.  She sees that they are leaving, so no milk and cookies, so might as well see what Timmy’s been up to — it’s always something interesting.

So, basically, Lassie follows Timmy until he gets in trouble.  Then she ditches him, and goes home to look for something to eat.  Then she starts barking.  She barks some more. Sometimes she goes back to see if Timmy has managed to defeat the rabid woodchuck on his own.  How special is this, really?  Many of my patients wander off and bark a lot.

"Lassie, get help!"  "Well, doctor, it all started when I was a puppy.  I was gender confused and…"

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