2010-05-12 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Long before Lassie came home or even fished Timmy out of the well, courageous Collies portrayed in the Terhune books mesmerized readers. Albert Payson Terhune (1872-1942) based his fictional canines loosely upon his own beloved Collies. However, the death defying adventures of these literary Collies like Lad, Bruce, Gray Dawn or Wolf make the later cinema and TV Lassie look like a wimp.
Terhune, a breeder and author, lived at Sunnybank a spacious family estate near Wayne, NJ known as “The Place” in all of his dog works. He also referred to himself as “The Master” and his wife Anice as “The Mistress.” Lad: A Dog first published in 1919 began as a series of short stories for Red Book magazine until fans kept clamoring for more. Terhune’s 30 or so books, as well as his personal pets, became extremely popular.
Terhune had a unique, opinionated narrator style focusing on the actions and motives of the Collie protagonist, attributing abilities beyond the dog’s documented realm plus theories that may remain unproven. For example, he insisted that Collies were more closely descended from wolves than other dogs. Many of his tales were morality plays where the Collie taught the Master, or another human, a lesson. Today part of Sunnybank is a museum and park where many beloved namesakes of the author’s Collie super-heroes are buried.
Thus, a Terhune book came to mind when searching for a fitting memento to mark a special occasion. This gift idea preceded my blunder. Babylon Shelter has an absolutely wonderful volunteer who just celebrated her 80th birthday. For the last six years, in addition to selfless gestures for family, and friends, Dory Banning, retired court stenographer, gracious grandmother and great grandmother, has spent all day, every Thursday exercising the dogs at Babylon Shelter.
Each dog gets quality time in the yard. Dory approaches her task with quiet, loving dedication. Moving excited canines in and out of kennels takes coordination. They tend to dance around the leash and twist your shoulders into pretzels. No one “wrestles” Pitbulls better than petite Dory. Because there are so many poor Pits, they all start to blend; yet Dory takes the time to know each one. The dogs and Dory have a mutual admiration society.
Dory adores all dogs, but Collies have a special place in her heart. Many years ago she had a Border Collie followed by three sable Rough Collies, clones of Lassie and Terhune’s Lad. Dory’s first two were purchased at a Queens pet store for $3 each; another Collie puppy scoffed up from an owner who was about to put him down for no apparent reason. Therefore, my plan was to find a first edition Terhune book published the same year Dory was born as part of the present I’d bring to her surprise party held last weekend.
I was thrilled to locate a volume of Terhune’s Bruce, copyright 1920, with a Collie painting insert, and the author’s dedication to his Sunnybank Collies which is actually a testament to a dog’s humility and unconditional
love. Here is an excerpt: TO MY TEN BEST FRIENDSWho
are far wiser in their way and far better in every way, than I; and yet who have not the wisdom to know it-Who do not merely think I am perfect, but who are calmly and permanently convinced of my perfection;- and this in spite of fifty disillusions a day-Who are frantically happy at my coming and bitterly woebegone in my absence….
To top it off, the book printed right after the Armistice, captures the mood of post war time while Terhune recounts the exploits of the main Collie character -Bruce- a pet turned brave World War I courier dog. He seemed to be immortal. Bruce survived “boche” [French slang for “Germans”] machine gun wounds and a bullet to the skull, led 12 men back to the trenches during a foggy night circumventing barb wire and a platoon of Germans, and sprang back to life during the eulogy at his premature funeral. Since Bruce could “smell” the difference between a German (whiff of cabbage) and an Allied soldier, between a man and a woman, the dog was able to uncover and practically kill a German spy disguised as a Red Cross nurse while this enemy imposter is signaling the arrival of troop trains. Betcha Lassie couldn’t do that.
Meanwhile the real Bruce (Sunnybank Goldsmith) wasn’t a war dog but a show dog and companion on “The Place” and when in 1920 his family carved “The Dog Without a Fault” on his headstone, they referred “less to his physical magnificence than to the soul and heart of him”.
Perfect, perfect, perfect. This Collie book was about to be the right dog gift for Dory until I realized my mistake. “Copyright 1920” makes the book 90, rather than 80 years old. (It is scary to think I taught kids math for three decades.) Knowing dear Dory Banning, she will still appreciate the book, blunder and all. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her reading Bruce aloud to her dog pals in the shelter yard to keep their spirits up and assure them a loving home is just around the bend.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Bella” in Cage 27 is Dory’s current favorite. She is a young Pit mix who came in frightened with her face cut up. Because of the scars “Bella” is not the type of dog a passerby would seek out on first glance, but Dory sees deeper. “Bella” is a sweetheart who would prefer to sit on your lap than wander around the yard. Despite the cruelty she has seen, Bella loves people and seems happy to meet other dogs on a leash or through the fence. Meanwhile overweight “Teddy” a Retriever mix in Cage 6 has been at the shelter since August. So far on his diet/exercise plan Teddy has dropped from 88 to 79 pounds. Now he needs a home where he can continue his fitness plan.
Male: “Tigger” brindle gentleman Cage 16; a young American Bulldog Cage 14; “Mushy” longhaired tabby & “Tiny” tuxedo cats in the lobby.
Female: “Jinni” who carries her bowl as a security blanket Cage 48; Bichon who needed to be shaved because of horrendous mats; Min Pin puppy; “Heather” gray tone Pit mix Cage 33.
•Last Hope Free Rabies Vaccine Clinic on Sunday June 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Last Hope Cat Center, 581 W. Jericho Tpke. Huntington- for dogs/cats- no appointment necessary. For more info and details for eligibility at the concurrent low cost Pet Wellness exam, see www. lasthopeanimalrescue.org.