Monday, July 11, 2011

When The Dog Dies In The Movie, That’s Tragic

I’ve always had a very profound love for animals. I’m not sure where this came from. I know it wasn’t a learned behaviour from my parents who didn’t share these feelings. They did not hate animals, and they were certainly never cruel or unkind to any; they just didn’t want them in the house. As a result, we were never allowed cats or dogs or turtles or guinea pigs or ferrets or rabbits or hamsters or gerbils or chinchillas, or any such animals, as pets. And forget about creatures like mice and rats and snakes and tarantulas and lizards; these would have freaked my mother out. This isn’t to say we didn’t have any pets, we did; we just didn’t have a large selection to choose from. The most we ever experienced were goldfish in a bowl and some birds; parakeets, to be precise.

(I’ll write about the pets I had as a child next time...)

So I didn’t grow up in a home full of people that gave much thought to the majority of furry and feathery creatures that would help explain my affection and sensitivity toward them. And I was very sensitive. Perhaps a tad too much. Not just in real life, which is certainly true, but also in fictional situations.

From a very young age, I used to cry when animals on TV shows or in movies were injured. And never mind the devastation I felt if one of them was killed. Remember Old Yeller? I bawled my eyes out when I read the book, and used up a box of Kleenex when I watched the movie. Still do. In fact, just the thought of what happens to that dog leaves me upset.

Remember Lassie, the television series from 1954 – 1973 that followed the adventures of a collie and her human companions? I was a huge fan. My absolute favourite episodes – a three part series - were the Odyssey I, II and III, where Lassie is accidentally locked in a truck making deliveries out of town. When she finally gets out, she’s hundreds of miles from home and has to somehow find her way back, which she adamantly strives to.

In the meantime, her best bud, seven-year-old Timmy Martin, is worried about his lost companion. An attempt is made to locate Lassie, but she is not found. After quite some time has passed, a heartbroken young Timmy gives up hope of ever seeing Lassie again and decides to gather up her toys and bury them in their secret spot (Timmy carved his and Lassie's names in an old hollow log. Then he buried a bone there as a pact dedicating it as their "secret, special place”. Cute, no?) Anyway, as he’s about to bury her toys, he hears a familiar bark over the hill and drops his shovel...

Well, let me tell you, the part where Timmy and Lassie are running toward each other...well, that part had me sobbing uncontrollably. And the part where they finally reach each other and come together in a joyous union of tears and fur? I thought I was going to pass out with all the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing. Never mind how exhausted I was from all the tears I shed. Timmy and Lassie were together again! [sob, sob, sob...]

This is just two examples of many from my early years. But it doesn’t end there. I never did outgrow this overly-sensitive feeling toward animals. In fact, I think it intensified over the years. I still become a basket case when I watch movies that include scenes of animals dying or suffering. In the 2007 post-apocalyptic science fiction film, ‘I Am Legend’, the saddest part of the movie for me was when the German Sheppard, Sam, dies. So what if a genetically-engineered variant of the measles virus, meant as a cancer cure, mutated into a lethal strain and spread throughout the world, killing 5.4 billion people (90% of humanity). And so what if out of the 600 million survivors worldwide, only 12 million are naturally immune to the virus; the rest degenerated into hairless, aggressive beings referred to as "Darkseekers" who hunt the immune humans as prey. And so what if the protagonist of the film and the last healthy human in New York city, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville, a military virologist trying to create a remedy, is in constant danger of being killed before he can save whatever is left of the normal world. I. Don’t. Care. Because, damn it, the dog dies. That’s the most tragic part of all.

And I still get teary-eyed and become a little unhinged when I run across passages in books where animals play a key emotional role, where they are ill or in danger or abused. Like in Sara Gruen’s book “Water For Elephants”, a runaway best seller about a man’s experiences with a depression-era circus, which I’m presently working my way through. And although I do love the story and the talented writing, I cringe at the sections where there is brutality inflicted on the animals, sections that pull on my heartstrings and leave me disturbed.

So nothing’s changed over the years. I’m as sensitive toward animals today, even fictional ones, as I’ve always been. Even more so, I’d say. And although I have no idea how I came to be this way, whether I learned this behaviour or I was predisposed to it, or whether it’s a combination of both, it’s a fundamental part of me. And always will be. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to my book – with some Kleenex in hand, of course.

How about you? Do you get teary-eyed when the dog dies in the film?

Here’s a Lassie video for those of you who loved the show, particularly ‘The Odyssey’ episodes:


  1. I totally get where you're coming from - that's why I actively avoid movies that feature animals - it's just too upsetting - I think for me it's the fact that they can't tell us and visa-versa. I guess I am pretty sensitive too - when I was a kid I even had to leave the room when Fred Flintstone would get himself into hot water over something that wasn't his fault: just a big misunderstanding that was eventually all! I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's true!

  2. I am right there with you from the start. I also grew up in a barely animal tolerant house, and I also grew to have a disproportionate love for animals. I too found Sam dying the saddest in I Am Legend, and while I enjoyed Water for Elephants I will never read it again, nor watch the movie as I can't handle the animal abuse.

    In fact, I find it odd that other people seem to have no problem with those scenes that bother me so deeply, and the issue is not mentioned in any of the glowing book reviews. I feel the same towards Jilly Cooper novels, they're very enjoyful, but she seems incapable of writing a book without some animal abuse or deaths, and they're just about ruined for me. At least with Water for Elephants I tell myself that it's fiction!

    For what it's worth I support the WSPA as a charity, which does wonderful work around the world to help animals.

  3. Jane, I've always been this way with animals, in books, in real life, in movies...wherever... I suppose it has a lot to do with how vulnerable they are at times, and how cruel and insensitive humans can be. And yes, they can't tell us; many times they're at our mercy.


    Tatiana, I had no idea when I started Water for Elephants that it would include some brutal passages involving the animals. I was stunned. And I don't want to say too much because I don't want to give away any part of the story in case someone reading this message wants to read it, but I have to say that I LOVED how it ended. What goes around...

    I know about the WSPA! Great charity. I used to support them years ago. I should look into it again!

  4. The only one I can remember that made me sad when I was young was Nester the Long Eared Christmas Donkey. Can you believe I have never watched Old Yeller?

  5. I've never heard of Nester the Long Eared Christmas Donkey. Now I'm curious about it, and I'll have to look it up! Old Yeller is really old, and many people I know have never seen the movie or read the book; you're certainly not alone in this.