Lad, A Dog

Lad Cover

When I was a child I read all of the dog and horse books in my school library. So did my friend, Kate Doyle. When I recently opened the copy of Lad, A Dog, from my bookshelf, I found Kate's name pasted inside the book. I realized that I must have borrowed this book from her sometime so far back that it must count as stealing at this point. Sorry, Kate. Luckily, we are still friends, and she is one of the few that, like me, read as many of Albert Payson Terhune's books as she could get hold of--we are talking circa fourth and fifth grade. Terhune published these books in the early half of the twentieth century, and we went to a school that had very old books on the shelves. Terhune lived on a farm in New Jersey back when it was still thought of as deep countryside, and he wrote beautifully about collie dogs. The lead character was Lad, and in the series came Lad's son, Wolf, and his wife, Lady--they were family to those who read these books. The dramas of the farm, and the collies, who were so intelligent and loyal and psychologically complex, were Jack London in New Jersey---but though any dog book fan has read White Fang, and The Call of the Wild, these books were domestic dramas rather than adventure stories. In some ways they succeeded because you could just barely imagine, from an apartment in New York City, that these dogs would have the same issues with you, if you were lucky enough to live in the county and raise collies. The books were old fashioned, and though I have never owned a collie dog, I notice the narrower skulls that have been bred for fashion since Terhune’s time, and when I lived for a short time in the country, I got a Border Collie pup who had a broad, intelligent forehead, like Lad's, and I thought of Terhune. The dogs were the stars of the show, and the "master" and "mistress" of the dogs were wallpaper compared to the main characters. I guess that is why we loved them. Honestly, we didn't care much about the humans in these books, and Kate had a collection of china dogs that we would play with for hours when we were children, pretending to rescue sheep, or fight off intruders, and somehow, one of these dogs would always come out a hero. It is important, it seems to me, to remember the hours spent playing with these little dogs. They were certainly more than toys to us. It was an ongoing story we returned to every day, inspired by Terhune, and the characters of the dogs he wrote about kept us playing hour after hour. We were trying out how we ourselves might behave if we had to rescue a flock of sheep on a hillside, or defend our family on "The Place." Would we be "noble"? Would we give in to our own fear? Lad showed us the way. There were many different endings to our games, and  for my part, though I tried my best to be be worthy of Lad, in the end, I was Wolf.

Lad, front piece

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