“Lassie,” the TV show (featuring a male collie known as “Lassie,” and a male human child, known as "Timmy,") shaped my earliest interest in anthrozoology. This show puzzled me as a young child. From the zoological, or animal-based, aspect, I wondered: Why was a male dog used to portray Lassie? Why was this dog so obedient, despite being repeatedly referred to as “Girl?” Why was the dog always looking past “Timmy” while he was addressing “her?” Focusing on the other side of my lines of questioning, the “anthro” or human part, I pondered: Why were people willing to make shows that fooled children like me about dogs? Why did Timmy constantly get into avoidable trouble and then repeatedly require Lassie to bail him out? Were dogs actually smarter than human children, as this show implied?
I performed experiments.
I had a collie of my own, named Blue, with whom I reenacted some pretend endangerment scenarios, similar to those Timmy was always getting himself into. Luckily, being smarter than Timmy or his script writers, I took the safe route, calling for help from various ground-level hiding places. Despite compelling performances, Blue totally ignored me. Had I been dumb enough to climb into a well, I’d still be rotting there. Not satisfied with results from my one research subject, I tried similar experiments with many neighbors' dogs and discovered the same discrepancy between Lassie and real dogs. One time, maybe, they took the bait and came looking; after that I was an odd kid who couldn't find her own way out from behind a garage.
I realize, now, the scientific merit of my childhood experiments was totally lacking, yet they still came to meaningful fruition, introducing the budding lens of anthrozoological inquiry. And though Blue never tried to save me, I owe him, my neighbors’ dogs, and especially Lassie gratitude for launching me into a well of curiosity that became—and remains--my lifelong field of study.