Everyone knows Lassie, the brave Collie who guarded the little farm boy, Timmy Martin, with her life. Week after week, Lassie dragged her trouble-prone charge from the brink of disaster. From her very first incarnation, in Eric Knight’s classic Lassie Come Home in 1940, her name—and her breed—has been synonymous with intelligence, courage, love, and loyalty.
The fictional Lassie of book and screen fame was able to handle almost anything. June Lockart, the actress who played Timmy’s mother for many seasons, once quipped that the show was “a fairy tale about people on a farm in which the dog solves all the problems in 22 minutes, in time for the last commercial.” Some of the adventures were truly, well, far-fetched.
But most fiction, at least the best fiction, is firmly grounded in reality, and that is certainly the case with Lassie. There's no getting around it, Collies are brilliant, brave dogs who do incredible things. People who live with these beauties say that they demonstrate their heroism on a regular basis, no special effects or scriptwriters required.
Here are just a few examples of Collies living the Lassie life:
- Leslie Rappaport’s Kings Valley Collies Kennel in Oregon has produced generations of AKC conformation and performance champions. For the past two decades, she has branched out, breeding and training Collies to help people who have disabilities. She notes that the breed is “endowed with an intrinsic richness of character and a highly developed sense of appropriateness” that makes them perfect for these difficult jobs. Rappaport’s web site is brimming with stories about how a Collie opened the world for people suffering from debilitating mental and physical issues, including multiple sclerosis, migraines, strokes, car accident injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.
A mobility Collie at work.
- Service dog Ramsey showed the kind of bravery that some might think could only have come from a screenwriter’s mind. In 2004, the Collie was teamed up with Scott, a man disabled by a stroke. Five years later, Scott and his partner, Jenny, were vacationing at Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. Jenny took Ramsey for a morning walk, but he was acting odd, whining as she stepped into the motel courtyard. She ignored his warning, even though he continued to whine as she stopped to chat with some people. Suddenly, the dog leaped in front of her, blocking the strike of a deadly poisonous coral snake that had been lurking in the grass inches from her feet. In a matter of minutes, the venom killed this brave dog, but his action saved Jenny’s life.
Ramsey, a service dog
- Buddy, a farm dog like Lassie, saved an entire herd of goats from a fire in the early 1960s, wrote Karen D. Pfeiffer in her book, The Romance of the Collie: True Tales of an Amazing Breed. His owner, Matt Crinkley, was jolted awake early one morning by Buddy’s barking. Crinkley smelled smoke and looked out the window and saw his barn in flames, he figured he had lost all 70 goats that lived there. He was in for a pleasant surprise, because when he went outside, he found the goats outside of the barn, being watched over by their canine savior. Buddy had sensed danger when there was still time, rounded up the flock and got them out. He earned several awards, including one from Ken-L-Ration, in recognition of his heroism.
- Duke was another Ken-L-Ration award winner in the 1960s. He was outside playing with his owner, Penny Grantz, 10, when embers from some papers burning nearby ignited the girl's skirt. Penny started to run, her Collie close behind her. He grabbed the burning skirt in his mouth and yanked it off the girl. Doctors said later Duke “almost certainly” saved Penny's life. The Associated Press reported that Penny, who had burns over 50 percent of her body, was treated for eight weeks and was at a ceremony to honor her dog with a gold medallion on his gold color.
Duke's life-saving act was celebrated and written about in the paper.
- Deker, of Clinton, Iowa, is a member of a three-dog team owned by Lois and Bill Hall that devote hundreds of hours to search & rescue and therapy work. In 2013, he earned the title of Shining Star Ambassador by the Collie Club of America, as an example of what the breed should be.