The Lassie Myth

I admit I am a Disney brat.  Like many other Baby Boomers, I grew up on Walt's sappy images of animals in iconic animated films like 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, and Bambi.  Sadly, I carry this mental affliction with me today.  Each passing birthday mandates a bottle of Dom and a Lion King screening, because, If I have to get one year older, I need all the Hakuna Matata I can get.  Recently, my friend was shocked when I ditched the blackjack table at Mohegan Sun, to sneak away for a bottle of crisp, French Riesling, a dip in the Jacuzzi, and a viewing of Finding Nemo on HD TV in the "High Rollers Suite".  I am not so much a high roller...except to the room service waiter... who needed staff to wheel in my dinner...Let's just say the Nachos appetizer at Mohegan Sun would feed Uruguay.

On the upside, this proliferation of cutesy celluloid fantasy animals shaped my youthful consciousness and instilled a love for all creatures that has added great depth to my life.  And then, there was Television, a medium that transformed my generation.  I confess that Bonanza almost turned me into an sure turned my Diva pal, Susan....who remains, tragically, dogless ... but man, she can ride a horse. I remember early black and white images of Rin Tin Tin, brilliant color exploits of Lassie, and  I recall how these famous pooches defined my perception of dogs.  All of our family dogs were nitwits by comparison.....  especially poor Basil, the Beagle, who tormented my mother by lifting his leg on her furniture.  Indeed, it was Basil who was responsible for my mother's unfortunate re-upholstering of the ivory silk damask chaise lounge with red naugahide.  It might have been easier on the eyes if we'd had him neutered.  Ah, hindsight is always 20/20.

When called to action, Rin Tin Tin even took over the camera.

Out of all the canine legends, the most majestic hero was Lassie, the grand Alpha Diva. Of course, history points out to us that Lassie was a male dog...but, details of dog reality didn't matter much on TV back then. In fact, Rin Tin Tin and Lassie bear little resemblance to the current parade of canine reprobates on The Dog Whisperer.  But in the "wonder" years, we didn't hear about dogs with OCD, Dominance Aggression and Separation Anxiety...we saw them as our heroes and our best friends.

Lassie considering a few changes to the script.

I remember that unfortunate Martin family was in a helluva pickle each week...and Timmy Martin...oye vey....that kid could conjure up trouble.  Thankfully, Lassie kept that catastrophe-prone family in check.  Indeed, she was the pinnacle of canine genius and heroism...and she did her job with dignity. Frankly, I think she should have been paid by the hour to baby sit that kid.  Evidently, though, Lassie finally had enough, and she gave that family the heave ho.  A few years ago, I saw Lassie on TV hawking the search engine.  Once she figured out the Internet, the Bitch put herself up for adoption.  Her last known address was some swanky Manhattan high rise....with color TV....probably a flat screen in High Definition where she is watching Bonanza reruns on TV Land.


Surely, these romantic images of animals and, particularly, of domestic dogs had a profound impact on my generation.  This trend has continued as films of recent years romanticize dogs, and glorify their relationship to kids.  Although, I am pleased to see that the ultimate canine reprobate, Marley, of bestseller Marley and Me fame, is featured in his own story, a high brow film about the Worst Dog Ever. That's what reality is...Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as patsys to a dog much smarter than they are. I discovered this reality ten years ago as I tumbled headfirst into American Eskimo Dog Rescue. When I met my Toot ten years ago...she was not only our first rescue dog, she was our first dog from Manhattan Animal Care and Control...I had a rude awakening.  Guess what?  You can't believe too much of what you see in the movies and on TV.  I remember my Toot's early years, when her reputation for toddler chomping inspired the term "Tooting," and I think to myself, "Bitch!  Where was your inner Lassie?"

One thing has puzzled me for years, and now that we have reached the decade milestone in our rescue, it bears some investigation.  Here's the question....if  we believe the hype ....that dogs are Man's Best Friend, and if the Lassie Myth is true....that kids and dogs are kindred spirits, then why are so many dogs dumped into shelters each year for chomping on kids?  Are kids just that tasty?

Indeed, kids must be mighty tasty.  After all, didn't the poor Irish feed their kids to the rich during the Great Potato Famine in the 1800's? Oh, maybe Jonathan Swift was kidding about that...sometimes you can't tell with satire.  However, nowadays, the American Diet is chock full of sugar ...goodness, breakfast cereals alone would increase a kid's general tastiness by several percentage points.  Certainly, kids must taste better than dog food.  Maybe that's it.

But, then, I ponder....when time permits...the logical angle.  It occurred to me that not all kids are equally tasty, because, I can think of a few kids who interact with dodgy dogs and rarely get bitten.  The first clear cut example of an untasty kid is Miss Emma Esty, who, befriended my Toot right in front of my shocked eyes and dropped jaw.  Emma is the daughter of our friend, Lynn Esty, who is a seasoned rescuer, as well as a balls on Alpha Bitch herself.  Coincidentally, Lynn's kids, Ashley, Michaela and Emma are some of the best behaved girls on the planet. They have grown up in rescue, and have been taught properly how to interact with dogs.  Ah....what is it then...are kids less tasty when they are raised with common sense and effective parenting?

Miss Emma is now 15 years old and has a driving permit!!!

But then, it occurred to me that we have the least tasty kid of all right in the midst of our own rescue group.  James Gonzalez performs the vital role of "Kid Tester" for all of our New Jersey rescue dogs.  Now, I have watched James grow up in rescue. "Kid Tester" was not his first job...that is a job that he grew into as Diane taught him the ropes of Eskie rescue.  James' first job was "poop patrol."  He appointed himself "Grand Poop Master"...being quite the self starter...when he developed an uncanny ability to locate dog poop in unauthorized locations.  Diane's home is beautifully decorated with rose colored berber carpeting which is protected from foster dogs by a series of baby gates. Of course, any self respecting Eskie could navigate around these in a heartbeat. James patroled the off limits areas and then sounded the alarm like Paul Revere, " MOM!!!  SNOWBALL POOPED....AGAIN!."  Not only did he know where the poop was, but he knew which dog had offended.  He would repeat his alert, "staccato style", until Diane acknowledged him with the "James....get a nappy and pick it up" retort.   

When James was three years old, his mom, Diane, joined our group as a foster mom.  Eight years later, James is eleven, and Diane has eight years of experience rehabilitating some of the diciest rescue dogs we have had.  In fact, Diane is our go-to girl for reprobate, ill mannered Eskies.  It was Diane who coined our rescue motto..."I'm not taking any crap from a twenty pound dog."  Diane may not take crap, but James sure can find it.

Now I am we have a family with an average kid.  And, of course, kids do dumb's their modus the time James drove his electric motorcycle into a pack of nine Eskies who were eating in Diane's kitchen.  Most kids would be chomped on in this circumstance....and certainly, James would be a tasty morsel, given his predilection for mac and cheese, ketchup and candy, and yet...he got away with it, unscathed.  Well, Snowflake may have made a play for his pant leg...but she was remarkably restrained considering the scope of the invasion.

So, why does James Gonzalez fare so well in the midst of the hundreds of dogs that Diane has fostered?   Why can he interact with dogs who have been booted out of their homes for horrible offenses... dogs that owner dumpers, vets, trainers, behaviorists, et al, have given up on?  How can you take a dog from one environment where he/she is screwing up the one car funeral...and put that dog into Diane's home, where the dog falls into line, and with little effort, integrates into a complex multi-dog, kid-infested household?

Well, my friends, I think the answer might be simple.  I think that the answer lies in Diane's mantra, "I'm not taking any crap from a twenty pound dog."  The level of competence and leadership that this amazing woman exerts in running her household, and raising her child, is an inspiration to these dogs.  They just can't help but behave themselves.

And, as far as James Gonzalez goes, when you think of a toddler raised in rescue, who has such skill and and compassion instilled in him from such a young age, I often wonder what kind of a man he will grow up to be.  And, I wonder what kind of dog he will have......I wonder if he will get sick of Eskies one day and decide to own a Pug.  Well, I can't say for sure what kind of man James will be...but certainly he will be someone you will want to know.

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© 2008 Eskies Online/Denise Gareau