by Perry Tate
For most people, the idea of settling down is appealing, whether that means having a steady job, getting married, starting a family, or some combination. But others have so much more they want to do: enjoy relationships with different people, experience all sorts of pleasures, try new things in general, travel and see the world, and do anything but settle. They dislike, and even fear, commitment. The movie Lady and the Tramp makes a strong case for the benefits of commitment, through the recurring idea of dog collars.
The idea of the collar or lack thereof is presented in four different ways throughout the movie. The first way is through the eyes of Jock and Trusty, who represent the greater population of dogs. The second way is how Lady views a collar, particularly her own collar. Her view does include someof the meaning that the
other dogs think it has, but it goes far beyond that for her. The third way is how Tramp views the collar and his own lack of one. He sees it all quite differently from how Lady does, and he spends a great deal of the movie trying to sway her over to his way of seeing the collared and collar free life. The last way is how Tramp comes to see the collar by the end of the movie.
When Lady gets her collar, she immediately shows it to her friends Jock and Trusty. Jock comments that it must be expensive. Trusty is surprised and glad to see it. “How time does fly,” he comments. “And now, there she is, a full-grown lady. Wearin’ the greatest honor man can bestow. The badge of faith and respectability.” Like most dogs in the movie, Jock and Trusty see the collar as a natural part of becoming a respectable pet. For them, settling down is the ideal. It’s what everyone’s supposed to do. Moreover, Jock and Trusty have low opinions of dogs don’t have and don’t want collars. They distrust and dislike Tramp initially. However, by the end of the movie, Jock and Trusty have this assumption challenged when Tramp saves the baby from the rat. They realize they misjudged him all along and that a collar does not inherently make a dog good and the lack of one does not necessarily make a dog bad.
Lady shares their positive views of collars, but not their negative stereotypes. To her, the collar primarily means that she has a family that loves her. She has someone with her for the long run that she can care for and protect. Her view of the world may be narrow in its scope, but what she does experience has far more depth than simply a life of trying to experience all there is to do and see. She has purpose, happiness, and contentment in a collared life. She’s proud of her collar and all that it means, and doesn’t understand why someone would want something different; however, she does not automatically assume the worst of those who see it differently. Perhaps it is partly because she is naïve, but it also has to do with her good and kind nature. This allows her to give Tramp a chance and eventually bring him to know the true meaning of a collar.
Tramp begins with a radically different view of collars; he sees them as an end of freedom. He takes Lady to the top of a hill to look out over a sprawling scene. All Lady notices is the pretty homes and yards below, but Tramp points out that there is a whole wide world out there full of places to see and things to try. For him, collars narrow that world down to only the houses and the yards. He wants her to open her eyes to what a dog’s life can really be when he isn’t living life on a leash tied down to one family; it’s the freedom to go wherever and do whatever they want.
Tramp sees the monogamy of collars as destroying the freedom of relationships. When Lady asks him whether or not he has a family, he replies that he has one for every night of the week. He has a lot of families, but none of them have him; he gets a little bit from everyone and gives nothing back. There are promiscuous undertones to this idea, and they are further emphasized when Tony, the owner of the Italian restaurant, tells Tramp that he should settle down with this one (Lady). When Lady hears this, she is annoyed, and asks Tramp, “This one?” Tony implied that Tramp had brought many girls around there. This is confirmed when Lady goes to the pound and Peg tells her about all of Tramp’s previous conquests.
Another aspect of Tramp’s dislike for collars is it forces a dog to take responsibility. In one scene, Tramp asks Lady to come scare some chickens in their coop with him. Lady is unsure and thinks that it sounds bad, and Tramp says, “That’s what makes it fun.” It becomes evident that Tramp enjoys getting in trouble, and since he doesn’t have a collar, he can get away with it. He’s also notorious for his ability to work his way out of any tricky and incriminating situation, but he’s only able to do this because he doesn’t have any accountability. A collar, and by extension a family, would mean that he would have to face the repercussions of his actions.
Perhaps the most significant part of Tramp’s dislike for collars is his distrust of humans. It is never explained why Tramp has this distrust; perhaps he had a family who mistreated him, or other dogs had told him of their own poor experiences, or he is just making assumptions based on observation. When Lady is muzzled, Tramp says that’s what happens when a dog attaches himself to one family. They are mistreated, silenced, made docile, and put second behind everything else whenever something new comes along. That explains even further why he is constantly switching between families. He has them, but they never have him; in that way, he can never be hurt by them. To commit to one family would be to make himself vulnerable. Not having a collar means he does not have to put his heart at risk.
As Tramp spends time with Lady, he comes to see things differently. By her example, he begins to understand the appeal of having a collar and giving all of one’s love to a single family. He develops great affection for Lady throughout their time together, and he eventually falls in love with her. Because he cares for her, he begins to care for everything that is important to her. When the rat sneaks into the baby’s room, Tramp immediately protects the baby and kills the rat, for Lady’s sake.
After Tramp is adopted by Lady’s family, he receives a collar of his own. In part, Tramp’s assessment of collars was right. He lost the freedom to wander between families or flirt with other dogs. But he gained Lady. He gained puppies of his own to nurture and raise. He gained a home where he could stay for more than just a single night. He gained a family who would love him and stay with him. Ultimately, he gained something worth living for, loving, and protecting. A portion of the world was cut off to him by the collar, but a better world opened up to him for the first time.