Eight years ago, I walked in with Ranger for the last time.

One of my favorite things is the feeling of walking into Guardian Animal Medical Center in the morning. I park far away from to door to allow clients to park closer. I walk past as the sun is just coming up on the horizon. Ranger walks beside me, excited to go to his run and have breakfast. He picks up his paws with a little flip that tells me he is happy. I am proud of the dog he has become and his confirmation. It is a wonderful start to my day. Or, it was. Ranger will never walk with me again.

I first saw Ranger as a puppy in a litter. All of the little chocolate labs were well-bred and adorable. The mom was excellent, and by two days old, when I removed the dewclaws and dewormed them, they were little butterballs. I told Matt that I was buying one for his anniversary present, but we both knew it would be my dog. Still, the pups were adorable, and I allowed Matt to pick out the one that would go home with us. It had been about ten weeks since Isaac had been put to sleep (after chemotherapy did not work on his brain tumor). Isaac had been a model dog. Ranger was not.

Isaac’s predecessor, Chip, had been poisoned at my house because I was a vet. This meant that Isaac came to work with me every day, and so did Ranger. So Ranger grew up at Guardian Animal. Every day I would take a photo so that I would have a slide show of him growing up over the first 100 days. When I was out of town, I had the staff take photos, so the project would be complete. An employee was playing with my camera and deleted all of the photos a week before the project was complete. I would like to have those photos now.

We decided that all three of us would agree on his name. This took a while. As a veterinarian, a new puppy is a joyous occasion for everyone. But without a name, everyone wanted to suggest one or two or twenty. It only took a day to see that this was going to make appointments run very late, so we taught M’Kinzy (age 4) to say that the pup’s name was No-No-Bad-Dog. This joke got us back on schedule, and she and he were incredibly cute. One of the photos that we have is of the two of them sitting in the driveway, playing tug of war with a rope frisbee-like toy. After about three weeks, we finally all agreed on Ranger. It played ohmage to Matt’s and my military background, our family geekiness, and his personality.

Ranger progressed through his training and became a good dog, but he never was an Isaac. Ranger may have been just as smart, but he used his intelligence for mischief. He learned to sneak over the baby gate silently at 2:00 a.m. to get things from the kitchen. He loved the trash. We would have to hide things in the microwave above the stove. He even ate M’Kinzy’s plaster of Paris from a diorama kit. He often pooped white or tinsel or wrappers.

The stovetop knobs had to be removed because he would turn them on as he raided the stove edge. To be fair, he did alert us when things were burning on the stovetop. Once, Matt had put dishes on the stove and accidentally turned on a burner. The other time, Ranger had done it.

Both times he woke us up before major damage was done to the stove or house.

But his eating habits cost him. Many times he would vomit up corn cobs in bed in the middle of the night. We always thought we had them out of his reach, but obviously, we did not. As he got older, he had gastritis that we would learn to identify on the practice ultrasounds.

Medications two and three times a day would help, but he continued to lose weight. Then last Wednesday morning, he did not eat his breakfast. This was unusual. We would have to devise ways to slow down his eating, or he would choke or vomit. And then, just after noon, he was gone.

Ranger will never walk into GAMC with me again. He will never snore softly beside me nor steal my pillow at night. He will never get up in the middle of the night to raid the kitchen. He will never jump up and put his paws on my shoulders (when invited) or sleep in my lap in the recliner while I am watching something. He will never fill that hole that is in my heart. Yes, when the time is right, and the wound not so raw, there will be another, but it will not be a Ranger. For now, I will grieve. I grieve for Ranger, but I also grieve for all the others that have gone before him and the things that the future holds that I cannot change. Sometimes I will have to leave an exam room even, but it is best for me to stay busy. Time will heal, at least somewhat, but my beliefs do not include an afterlife for animals, so an empty hole remains. That hole’s name is Ranger.

William Beebe “but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”