After quite a dry spell – not so much writer’s block as, at worst , starter’s block; at best, finisher’s block, I realized I had to write something – anything. So, with nary a nod to nasty politics, I thought I would start slowly with an elementary school style essay on why I love collies.
Without further ado… ahem…”Why I Love Collies” by Nancy Krenrich:
It should come as no surprise that this Baby Boomer grew up watching “Lassie.” I was too young for the Jeff episodes with Tommy Rettig (1954 – 1957). It was the Timmy shows (starring Jon Provost) that I watched every Sunday night.
It might be that my love of collies is hereditary. I have seen a picture of my big brother (before I was born) holding what appeared to be a tricolor collie puppy, whose name I am told, was Tippy. My mom never had pets, because her mother was not a fan, and was appalled at the very idea of actually keeping and feeding them. Heaven forbid they should be allowed in the house! So, any affection for animals would likely come from my father. After I was born, we had a sable collie named Sandy until my parents divorced. Mom got my brother and me. My dad got custody of the collie.
After that, it would be years before we had another dog. Mom was a single, working mother, then establishing a new life with my stepfather. So, we moved a lot, for years just renting – a lifestyle that did not easily accommodate pets. Meanwhile, I indulged in watching “Lassie” every Sunday evening, and when I learned to read, I devoured Albert Payson Terhune’s series of books about Lad: A Dog and the collies of Sunnybank. I also enjoyed Jack O’Brien’s Silver Chief, Dog of the North books. Silver Chief was a cross between Husky and wolf. Though not a collie, like Buck, the St. Bernard/Shepherd cross canine center of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, it was close enough for me.
With the exception of the occasional stray that might stick around for a meal, we were completely bereft of pets. So, in between “Lassie” episodes and dog-themed books, this delusional, dog-deprived child turned to my imagination to fill the void. When I was nine years old, I got a Slinky for Christmas. Sure, like every Baby Boomer before and generations of kids after me, I enjoyed watching it slink down the porch steps. But, I really wanted a dog. My Slinky became a collie who, under the curse of a wicked witch, had been changed into a snake. Slinky the Collie was still my brave, loyal canine companion – he just looked like a snake. True story! And because it just doesn’t feel right to put an emoji into any written work, I ask that you simply picture the hand-to-face brunette female emoji here. Like this one 🤦🏻♀️ Oops!
By the time I was 11, my family was settled into a home life that could accommodate a dog – not a purebred that one pays for. Our dogs came from the “Hey, our dog just had puppies. Do you want one?” marketplace. Nevertheless, the two poodle mixes we had at different times throughout my teen years were great dogs. They just weren’t the collie I still longed for.
When I got married, I told my husband I always dreamed of having a collie and a house with a swimming pool. He made both of those dreams come true – time and again, actually. We had been married just 10 months, and in our new home less than two months, when we got Scout. Like my previous pets, he was a giveaway, because he was not pure collie. But, the blend of Golden Retriever was an ideal complement to the collie genes. Scout was an absolute delight. He could catch a ball or Frisbee from anywhere, at any height or speed, and was the perfect introduction to dog love for my husband, who had never known it, because his mother, a gardener, always feared the damage a dog might do to her yard. Six months later, I still wanted a collie, and knew it would be a good companion for Scout while we were at work all day.
In the 1970s, the daily newspaper classified ads were where we went for pretty much everything – especially jobs, houses, new cars, and pets. One afternoon, I just started calling every “collie pups for sale” ad in the Dallas Morning News. I would state my case right up front: “Hello. I have wanted a collie all my life. I am a newlywed, and can’t pay more than fifty dollars. Do you have anything for me?” After several predictable “I’m sorry” responses, a woman in Seagoville, Texas told me I could have the runt of the litter for fifty dollars. The following Saturday, we made the 30 mile drive to pick up my new, AKC-registered collie pup – Lake Highland Hollie. She was, indeed, a runt. So tiny, we were often asked if she was a Sheltie. And our half Golden Retriever Scout actually looked more Lassie-esque. Hollie was darker – a mahogany sable. But, she was every bit the alpha female – a competitive playmate for Scout, and could catch and retrieve a ball or Frisbee as well as he did.
Scout would succumb to side effects of heart worm treatment, which was still not perfected in the 1970s. We had Hollie for almost 13 years. So, our two children would know her until they were six and nine years old. It was probably more traumatic for my kids to see me grieving than it was for them to lose the pet. I just cried for weeks.
It would be a few years before I got another collie – Dixie, a magnificent, heavily white-factored female. Another alpha, she kept the kids’ Black Lab mix in line. We would also keep two of her sons – a huge sable and white, and a beautiful tri-color.
When my family was still young and intact, the dogs were mostly outside pets. They were allowed to come in the house. When we lived in the country, they all seemed to prefer the outdoor freedom, though often slept inside. Our collies were every bit a part of our family. We often took some on road trips, as I now travel with my current guardian angel white collie.
While the collie was popular in the 1950s, the breed has long since been eclipsed by different trends. Labs, Bull dogs, Pit Bulls, and different kinds of “Doodles” seem to dominate the media. The collie may be an old-fashioned dog. But, it is every bit what one would expect from watching “Lassie.” They pick up on their person’s mood. When we are playful and hyper, they are thrilled to “join the party.” When we’re sad, sick, or just subdued, they lie quietly beside us, in empathetic solidarity and support. Despite their size (my Hollie was only around 40 pounds, Dixie’s son was at the other end – nearly 90 pounds, and my current girl is just under 50), collies are excellent indoor dogs, because they are so well-behaved, and easily adapt to their surroundings. I am often asked about their shedding. They do require frequent brushing. However, they shed fluffy clumps, unlike the fine, oily hair shed by other breeds.
When we got our first collie, I also had a bumper sticker that said “A collie is love.” I still cannot think of a better description.
“Lassie” TV show opening
“Lassie” TV show closing