Today, my buddy Ranger the Lakeland terrier, turns 13. Though he’s slowing down a bit, sometimes he runs around the yard for no other reason than to run, a puppy at heart. Ranger is a great dog.

I was resistant to getting Ranger at first. We were dog shopping while the kids were little. While I loved the idea of getting a rescue dog, I was worried we’d never really be sure of what sort of dog we were getting. How big would it get? What sort of past trauma might endanger the kids? I felt terribly, but the risk seemed too great.

We settled on getting a pet store dog. I didn’t love all the horror stories of puppy mills and inbreeding (Ranger’s dad, it would late turn out, is also his grandpa). The assurance that the dog we’d be buying would reasonably be predictable outweighed my distaste for the process as a whole. I still don’t feel good about it, but Ranger has been such an amazing addition to the family, I usually set aside that guilt.

At the pet store, we’d never heard of Ranger’s breed before. A Lakeland terrier? We were told he’d be a solid little dog, perfect for a house with three small kids. Ranger was small enough to fall on them without causing damage, and he was big enough to roughhouse with the kids. At the store, Ranger never barked. He was cute, enthusiastic but polite, and cost as much as a house payment.

Common sense prevailed, and we left that day without a dog. The kids had already named him Ranger because they knew I liked that name for a dog, but I thought it was irresponsible to spend so much money.

A few weeks passed, until one morning, we were at the park for the kids’ end-of-season soccer picnic when the pet store called. Ranger was on sale. His price had been reduced from a house payment to, well, still most of a house payment. That was that. We picked him up the next day.

When the marriage ended and I moved, Ranger came with me. Again, it took convincing, but I’m glad she insisted. Ranger has been a wonderful companion, and frankly, when I fell in love again, and this new lady fell in love with me, there’s no doubt in my mind she fell for Ranger first, and harder. He’s always had a way with the ladies.

He’s always been loved, but life hasn’t been easy for Ranger Danger. He’s been attacked and nearly killed by other dogs three times.

As a puppy, another man’s pit bull lashed out at him as we passed during a walk. This dog appeared well-behaved, even laid down as we approached. It jumped up suddenly, grabbed Ranger by the scruff on his back, and shook him until the pit’s master jerked it away. I should have crossed the street and completed our walk on the other side, but I was trying to give the other dog and its master the benefit of the doubt.

The second time Ranger was attacked was in our apartment building. We were leaving to visit my parents the day before Thanksgiving when our upstairs neighbor entered the building with their pit bull. It broke loose of its leash and grabbed Ranger by the throat. It took me and another neighbor smashing the pit bull with the steel security door and punching it in the head to get the dog to release Ranger as my dog started to go limp.

Ranger was attacked a third time while walking in our new neighborhood. A German shepherd saw Ranger from its front window, went out the open back door of its house, and bolted from its yard. It grabbed Ranger by his rear hindquarters, hurting his leg and nearly causing permanent nerve damage. We weren’t sure Ranger would be able to walk properly again.

Ranger has healed from all these attacks because he’s just awesome. He’s a bit afraid of big dogs now, and he cries when he’s barked at sometimes. I never liked big dogs like pit bulls, anyway, and my distaste is clearly justified. That first dog was probably a fighting dog, but that second pit bull lived in an apartment with a family and a chihuahua. The German shepherd’s owner was clearly irresponsible. But if my dog broke loose, or ever made a mistake, the potential damage of his bite wouldn’t be life-altering. He’s just not bio-mechanically built that way.

Now Ranger spends his days watching his mom grade papers, waiting for his walks, and protecting the house from things like joggers and raccoons. He eats too much bunny poop, but he always knows when your lap is a little cold and needs a puppy to keep it warm and cozy.

Happy birthday, Ranger. You’re a tough little man. Like all good dogs, you’ve seen your humans at their best and at their worst, and you’ve only ever responded with love and an insistence for more treats.

You’re the kind of person I hope to be someday.

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