“He was a big and incredibly powerful collie, with a massive coat of burnished mahogany-and-snow and with absurdly small forepaws (which he spent at least an hour a day in washing) and with deep-set dark eyes that seemed to have a soul behind them. So much for the outer dog. For the inner: he had a heart that did not know the meaning of fear or disloyalty or of meanness.” – Albert Terhune
Lad, a Dog by Albert Terhune
Think of a famous collie dog, and you’ll probably imagine clever Lassie or maybe motherly Fly from the movie/book Babe. But before these smart collies became known everywhere, there was a real-life dog named Lad who was as famous as either of them. He lived almost one hundred years ago, yet his adventures still make for good reading today.
Lad and his people live at a country estate in New Jersey called Sunnybank, known to the storybook dogs as The Place. The stories are the kind that can and did happen (more or less), and they are told from Lad’s point of view. In the first chapters, Lad is jealous when a visiting collie gets everyone’s attention, and soon the interloper causes trouble for the other canine members of the household. Later, Lad endures a dog show in Madison Square Garden only to get lost on the cold streets of New York. When a greedy city slicker tries to show everyone in the neighborhood who is the boss, it’s Lad whose smarts take him down a peg.
Lad’s stories are old-fashioned in several ways, and some of the cruel things that happen to him might disturb very young children. But as the readers follow the noble dog from the prime of his life to the end of his old age, the occasional harshness makes the stories more real, even when that reality hurts.
Today, the house at Sunnybank is gone, but visitors to the Annual Collie Gatherings held there can still come and see the woods and fields where Lad and the other dogs enjoyed their days on this earth. Lad may be gone, too, but his stories live on. Books about Lad are still in print, and some have been reworked into beginning readers, audio books, and a movie. Albert Terhune wrote books about his other beloved dogs as well, including Wolf, Lad’s son, who also became famous—so much so that his heroic end was written up in the New York Times.