He became a part of our family when I was in second grade. We'd just moved the previous summer, and we were living in a trailer house in small-town North Dakota where my dad was working at a lumber mill. There had been talk of getting a dog, but I never dreamed I'd get my way, especially considering where we were living at the time. I'd been asking for months, though, and my dad came home from work one night and with him came Lassie.
I know the name is cliché. I guess that's what happens when a second-grade girl who loves the TV show is given the chance to name her new dog. Lassie was just a puppy, but my dad didn't know exactly how old he was. He'd gotten Lassie from a man he worked with, who'd taken him from an abusive household. At the time, we didn't care how old he was, or any other details about him. All we cared about was having our own dog.
My family moved back home soon after we got Lassie. I went back to my old school, and my old friends. I'd only been gone a couple of months, so it didn't take long to catch up. As I grew, so did Lassie, until he reached his full size. He stood maybe two feet high, and two feet long if you didn't count his big, bushy tail.
When I was in fourth grade, I took Lassie to show-and-tell day. It was not a good idea. Lassie was so scared of all the kids that he peed on the carpet in the classroom and tried to bite one of my classmates. This was very out of character, but as I got older I began to notice that he did not like large groups of people, and really did not like strangers. That's when I began to wonder about the abusive home he'd come from.
There were other things that Lassie didn't like. One of those was guns. He didn't like the sight of them and didn't like the sound of gunshots. During hunting season, he spent most of the daylight cowering behind our sofa. The other trigger was uniforms. We had to be very careful when we opened the door for the UPS man, the Schwan's salesman, or our local deputy who lived next door. Lassie became a completely different animal when he saw those uniforms; he growled, barked, and tried to bite both the person in uniform and the person holding him back.
Ten days before my eleventh birthday, my father had a heart attack while driving home from getting minnows for fishing opener and crashed his truck. I was with him, and so were my siblings. We were fine, but my dad wasn't. His funeral was six days before my birthday. I spent almost two weeks at home, crying, along with the rest of my family. Animals can sense emotion, and they can also sense when something is severely wrong. Lassie spent the next month alternating his attention between grieving family members, and took my father's place in my parents' bed almost immediately. That little bit of comfort helped tremendously in the long run.
Over the next few years, I began high school, and eventually decided to join the PSEO program through the local community college. When I had a rough day at school and my family wanted to have nothing to do with me, Lassie would come into my room where I was sitting and curl up on my lap. To tell you the truth, it got annoying, but I always let him do it, mostly because it did make me feel better.
Everything changed near the end of this past summer. I'd graduated from high school and received my two-year degree from HCC that spring, and was packing up my belongings for my move to BSU. I came home from work one day and Lassie didn't come to the door to meet me. It was a bit strange, but it wasn't the first time, so I didn't think anything of it. By this time he was somewhere around thirteen years old and was losing his sight and hearing, so I figured he just hadn't heard me come in. But it happened a few more evenings, and then Lassie began vomiting up everything he ate and drank. Soon he stopped eating completely. We didn't have the money to put him down, or the courage to take him to the woods with the rifle. For the next three weeks, Lassie alternated between apparently getting better and the spiral back into weakness. He'd eat small bites of food and keep them down, but only a few hours later he wouldn't be able to eat, or drink, at all. As my departure began to grow closer, Lassie became more ill. On the day I moved to Bemidji , he wasn't even able to stand on his own, and leaving him was one of the most difficult things I'd done.
I spoke with my mother daily for the first week I was in classes, mostly to keep tabs on Lassie. I was worried about him, but there wasn't much I could do. However, my mom told me every step of progress that Lassie made towards getting better, so I was hopeful. As I headed home for the weekend, I expected to walk in the door and see my dog stand to meet me.
I was wrong. When I got home, Lassie was lying on a blanket on the floor in the kitchen, and he couldn't even lift his head, but he recognized me. I didn't bother to take my bag to my room; I just sat down on the floor beside him and lifted him into my lap. When my mom suggested that I let him rest, I yelled at her for not telling me just how bad his condition actually was. I spent hours on the floor with him, petting him and giving what little comfort I knew how to give. I sat there through dinner and into the night. It was just before one AM when his old, tired body gave in. I didn't have the heart to just put his body back on the floor, so I stayed where I was until morning.
My family buried him the next day, while I was at work. When I learned what they'd done, I screamed at all of them and slammed the door behind me on my way out of the house. I spent the rest of the day, and a big part of the evening, sitting on the ground in front of the mound of dirt that covered my dog's body. The rest of the weekend was hell, for me and my family. Even though I'd laid claim to Lassie, he'd been the family's dog. I did plenty of yelling and crying, and my mom received the full force of it. We'd never fought so badly.
It's been just over half a year since Lassie died, and my family wants to get another dog. I'm adamantly against the idea. The weight of my dying dog in my lap is still too heavy to lift.