We entered the pet shop having decided to buy a cat, and came out with a dog. Don’t ask me what happened it was a long time ago. She was mostly, but not entirely, border collie. She had a beautiful coat which was black, white, brown and grey, a really cute face and a price tag of just £6. We named her Lassie, and to this day, I can’t believe I was so unimaginative as to call her that.
Although it never entered our heads at the time, we were selfish and wrong to have bought a pet because we both worked full time. Lassie was left on her own all day and out of sheer boredom and frustration she gnawed through the table and chair legs. She also managed to chew the corner of the wall through to the brick. Later though, she would have several years where she wasn’t alone as my wife left work to bring up two children.
Lassie always slept in the bedroom with us. We started off with good intentions though. We were advised that leaving her downstairs was best, and that at first she’d cry and whimper but if we were firm she’d quickly get used to it. However, on the first night we laid awake in bed for hours listening to her whimpering and barking in a high pitched voice. Eventually I relented and went downstairs to sort her out only to find her jammed behind the fridge.
I brought her upstairs and from then on she slept in our bedroom. As soon as she was big enough to jump on the bed she’d usually end up sleeping in between our legs at the bottom of it. When my wife got up in the morning I’d say, “come on Lass”, and she’d get inside the bed with me and I’d cover her over with the sheets. She was an extremely clean dog and never once even had fleas. I put this down to the fact that she didn’t have many walks and never ever roamed around outside. Often I’d get right under the covers and shout her and she’d jump on the bed and go mental trying to bite me. I’d scream and giggle and she’d dig away threatening to shred the duvet frantically trying to uncover me. It was great fun that – for us both.
As she got much bigger I’d often wake up in the night unable to move my legs because of her weight and had to kick her off the bed. At first she’d simply jump straight back on and I’d kick her off several times before she’d give up. Even then she’d often be back between my feet when I woke up in the morning. It took several months before she finally got the message and started staying in her basket.
I was always reluctant to take her for proper walks and it wasn’t long before Lassie had to get used to just being let out the back for 10 minutes in a morning and evening for much of the time. She never really knew much different and to her, it was normal. Most dogs get excited at the word “walkies”, but my dog got turned on by the word, “out”. I did used to take her on proper walks in the park sometimes and used this word to trick her many times when she wouldn’t come back to me. I’d simply shout to her, “do you want to go out Lassie?” and she’d fall for it every time. She’d come bounding back all excited and I’d put the lead on her. I always thought it was so funny.
I’ll always remember the time when she was on heat and I let her outside one snowy Sunday morning. I forgot all about her until I heard a stifled bark about fifteen minutes later. I looked outside to see her being gang-raped by three dogs. There was blood all over the snow and as I opened the door she looked at me so helplessly. I’ll never forget that look she gave me and how distressed she was.
Night-time farce – Doing the business
The irony about not taking her for proper walks was that the hassle I had by letting her out into the back garden, especially in winter, was much worse. If it was raining or snowing she’d faff about so much instead of just getting on with her business that I’d be seething (and usually freezing). I had to watch her because she’d often come back in without doing anything and get me up in the middle of the night.
Eventually I’d start shouting at her to get on with it and she’d get the face on and come trotting back with her ears down and her tail between her legs. I’d then shout at her some more and send her back where the whole cycle would repeat itself. She’d sniff round and round looking for the perfect spot before squatting momentarily and deciding it didn’t quite feel right. Eventually, when she finally decided to go for it I was sometimes elated to the extent of shouting, “yes” and punching the air. I had to whisper it though because any noise, a rustle of leaves, a car door – anything, would put her off and she’d come trotting back wanting to come inside.
Many times I just gave up and let her back in or couldn’t be sure if she’d done anything. Then I’d get my just deserts and suffer the consequences in the middle of the night. She’d always come over to my side of the bed and sit staring at me. She could wake me up with that stare. I could feel her breath on my face if I was facing that way and would ignore her or shout at her. Then she’d start crying and whimpering and pawing the bed until eventually I’d storm out of bed and had to stand freezing and naked at the back door while she rushed out and did the deed quicker than you could say, “stupid dog”. Ah well – it was me that was stupid not her.
I did used to play with her a lot and we used to get very boisterous. We both loved play fighting, and she would tear around the room tucking her bum and tail behind as I chased after her. When I caught her I’d be pretty rough with her but she loved it. I’d get her on her back and trap her between by knees as I knelt over her (yes this is still the dog I’m talking about). Then as she growled and barked and snapped at me I’d play slap her snout with both hands before she’d break free. Then she’d tear round and round the table pulling big threads in the carpet with her claws until she came back close enough for me to grab her again.
We both loved playing this game and it gave her plenty of exercise as she was always totally knackered afterwards. “That’s enough now Lass”, I’d say, and she knew playtime was over. I’d then be gentle with her and cradle her in my arms like a baby sometimes or just rub her head like a father might rough up his son’s hair in a manly, friendly way. Lassie lost out a lot when we had proper children later.
Video of one of our play fights: Andy V Lassie
Lassie was always the type of dog that would never let you have anything back once she got her mouth round it, and when I used to throw sticks for her I would grab the stick that was clamped firmly in her mouth and lift her up with it. Then I’d swing her round my head a few times and release her like an Olympic hammer thrower. She’d land sometimes 15 feet away having turned in mid air almost 360 degrees. Sometimes she’d land on her feet and other times she’d roll over several times but she’d always come bounding back for more. I was pretty good doing it without ever hurting her. We would have done very well if I’d ever come across an appropriate competition to showcase our skills in.
Sheepdog instincts – wouldn’t let me leave home
As a non-pedigree dog she was extremely healthy and didn’t suffer from any genetic health problems. The only negative inheritance she had was the herding instinct of a Border Collie. This meant she drove us mad by going crazy every time someone tried to leave the house. As she got older, this behaviour become so bad that I’d get really angry with her and the whole issue of anyone (but especially me) leaving the house became a nightmare.
As a result of my poor handling of the situation I used to get aggressive with her and it reached the stage where we both become conditioned to expect that whenever I left the house there was going to be a battle. As soon as she heard the door opening or me shouting “bye”, she’d hurtle towards me like a possessed demon barking and snarling. I’d then sword fight her with my foot and I eventually started to just lose my temper and kick her back as she attacked my foot.
Twilight years. The end
By the time she’d reached the age of 16 our relationship had deteriorated and we’d come to see her mostly as a nuisance. She was almost blind and kept walking into things. The mess and smell that often greeted us when we came back was horrendous at times. She had minor fits, which were distressing to see as she’d all of a sudden just drop to the floor as if electrocuted and get straight back up looking totally bewildered. I’d stroke her and she’d sit by my side. After several visits to the vet I had to make that inevitable decision to have her put down, and took her by myself.
In the waiting room she tried to jump up on my knee as she always did, and I helped her up. People commented on what a beautiful dog she was as people often did, which didn’t help. The vet was sympathetic and gave her the injection as I held her. He asked if I wanted to stay with her and then showed us into a side room and left us together. I gently stroked her and talked reassuringly to her occasionally until she drifted effortlessly into sleep. I felt strange, almost detached, refusing to allow myself to take in the finality of the situation.
I got up from the floor and without looking back I let myself out and back into the waiting room. I know it was full of people and pets but I saw no one. I approached the receptionist and was presented with a bill. I then had to write out a cheque to pay for the service I’d just received, which I found bizarre and surreal. It made the experience seem so clinical and business like and I feel that sort of thing you should be billed for later.
I drove home and sat alone in the empty house, which was now free from Lassie’s inconvenient presence and did nothing. Every so often I fought back tears and emotions that insisted on trying to escape but I fought them back and won each time. I used to be good at that. I wasn’t such a good dog owner though, I could have treated her much better.