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Lassie never goes to the dogs


Look, I am the last person in the world who would rip Lassie or speak unkindly about a dog that has accomplished so much over the years, rescued so many terrified children from swollen rapids, fought off so many enraged coyotes, etc.

But my kids just dragged me to see the new "Lassie" movie. And it occurred to me that many of the things that bugged me about Lassie 30 years ago still bug me today.

For instance, how did everyone around Lassie always know what she was saying when she barked?

When I was a kid, it seemed like every "Lassie" episode on TV had a scene like this:

Lassie: "Woof, woof!"

Mr. Martin: "What's that, girl? You say Timmy's down by the power plant?"

Lassie: "Woof, woof!"

Mr. Martin: "And he's clinging to a vine while trapped in 30 feet of oozing quicksand?"

Lassie: "Woof, woof!"

Mr. Martin: "And the bad guys who pulled that bank job are heading north out of town?"

Lassie: "Woof, woof!"

Now, I have a dog myself. And my dog barks at me all the time.

But whenever my dog barks at me, my first reaction is: What the heck is he saying?

In fact, most of our conversations (if you want to call them that) go something like this:

My dog: "Woof, woof!"

Me: "What? You wanna go out?"

(I open the screen door. The dog just sits there.)

My dog: "Woof, woof!"

Me: "What?! Food? I gave you food!"

My dog: "Woof, woof!"

Me: "What, a dog biscuit?"

(I hold out a dog biscuit. The dog doesn't move. The dog looks at me like I'm holding a fistful of sand.)

The point is, all I get out of that "woof, woof!" stuff is, well, woof, woof.

When my dog barks at me, it never occurs to me to say: "What's that? You say a bolt of lightning from the electrical storm just hit the garage? You say we better get out of here pronto before the whole place goes up in flames?"

Because if anybody heard me say that, they'd be hustling me into an ambulance and shooting me up with 250 milligrams of Thorazine.

You know another thing that irritates me about Lassie? She never, ever makes a mistake.

Just once I'd like to see Lassie mess up big-time.

Instead of jumping into a raging river to rescue a 5-year-old, I'd like to see her, I don't know, start chasing a rabbit or something.

Or instead of leading the grizzled old-timer out of the collapsed mine shaft, I'd like to see Lassie start digging for bones.

Understand, it's not that I want to see anyone get hurt.

But it would be neat to have someone else rescue the kid in the river or the old-timer in the mine for a change.

Then everyone could turn to Lassie and say: "Where the heck were you? You're vastly overrated, you know that?"

I guess what I'm saying is: I'd like to see Lassie act more like a real dog.

Let's put it this way: If I were clinging to a vine while trapped in 30 feet of oozing quicksand, you know what my dog would do? I'll tell you what he'd do: nothing.

My dog would find a nice comfortable place under the nearest tree and fall asleep. Because that's all my dog ever does: sleep.

Believe me, it would be a total waste of time to scream: "Pudgie, go get help!"

In fact, my dog would be so mad at me for waking him up that he'd start chewing the vine. Just so I'd sink into the quicksand faster and shut up.

Lassie, of course, is far too busy to sleep. Everything is always go, go, go.

In the course of this new movie, she leads her sullen 13-year-old master to his late mom's long-lost diary, rescues a kid in the familiar raging river, battles a coyote in a cave, herds sheep, gently helps the 13-year-old adapt to his new surroundings, hooks him up with a babe and does everything else but join O. J. Simpson's defense team.

For my dog, a big day is moving from one side of the couch to the other.

Believe me, if I ever fell into a raging river, my dog would never even know it -- unless someone moved the couch down to the river.

Even then his philosophy would be: Hey, it's nap time. You're on your own, pal.

He's not exactly a go-getter, if you catch my drift.

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