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Most people will probably first associate Lassie with the 1943 MGM classic film Lassie Come Home but she was actually the invention of Eric Knight in a short story which eventually expanded into a full length novel called Lassie Come-Home.
The story follows Mr and Mrs. Carraclough and their son Joe as they struggle to get by in a depression-stricken England. The family is forced to sell their beloved collie Lassie. Joe is absolutely distraught at losing his dog but thankfully Lassie is the type of dog who takes matters into her own hands and decides to embark on a long journey home. The short story first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post but was so popular that a novel was soon made which then spawned into a film, sequels, radio shows and even commercials due to the story’s appeal.

The pooch actor who played Lassie was interestingly, not even female. The character was played by a dog called Pal – at least he sounded friendly. The Lassie gender bias continued into the television series where Pal’s son through what can only be called canine nepotism played Lassie for the first three seasons of production.  In fact, Pal’s lineage continues to star in Lassie related adaptations and commercials today[1].

There is some debate over how the original story came about, Elizabeth Gaskell, an author in the Victorian era wrote a short story called “the Half-brothers” where a dog saves a young boy which eventually defined the Lassie storylines in future adaptations. However, according to Nigel Clarke, the Lassie tale has been inspired by a dog that saved a sailor during the First World War. After being torpedoed by a German submarine, the battleship “Formidable” was sunk and a pub called the Pilot Boat in Lyme Regis gave the soldiers access to their cellar to process the dead. Allegedly, the pub owner’s dog found her way amongst the deceased and licked the face of John Cowan who turned out to be quite alive[2].

Whilst all the historical accounts can only ever amount to mere speculation after the fact, it is important to remember that fictional stories are often inspired by true events and it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to suggest that the author Eric Knight invented the fictional Lassie after being inspired by tales of a heroic animal.

Fiction plays a huge role in how we develop our culture and understand the world. Characters like Lassie have helped cement how we perceive dogs as pets, their roles and what it means to bond with animals. Her popularity is indicative of just how strongly we believe in the notion that our dogs understand us which is great for animal rights enthusiasts like the team here at Concord Vet.

If you have a story of pet heroism we would love to hear it and with your permission would happily publish your pet’s exciting tale.

[1] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17894690

[2] Clarke, Nigel, Shipwreck Guide to Dorset and South Devon. Charmouth: Nigel J. Clarke Publications, 2008.