I wanted a baby.
I was 22 years old, five seconds post college graduation and fiercely yearning for a little person inside our newlywed home.
So my husband used the oldest trick in the put-your-wife-off-another-year book, and he got me a dog.
Technically, he stole the dog from his brother, who raised the most amazingly well-behaved and well-trained beagles for hunting dogs.
We, however, did not get one of those dogs.
Ranger, who Super-Spouse named when he heard my first choice for a dog name was either Amadeus or Boaz, was a beagle with the SWEETEST spirit and the absolute BEST HEART.
And the absolute worst behavior.
It could have been because shortly after we brought Ranger to our new Fairbanks home, Super-Spouse left for a 16-month business trip, and I, in my loneliness and Bamboo Panda delivery mope sessions, just didn’t have the fortitude to properly train the sweet thing.
Only to snuggle with him.
Or it could have been because Ranger, who was clever enough to roll over and learn tricks, was also smart enough to behave on command during the day … and use his beagle nose to stealthily steal trash from the kitchen can at night.
No matter the reason, Ranger was a very good, very bad dog.
And over the years, this naughty little heartbreaker earned quite a reputation for himself.
With the delivery drivers who were howled at from the moment they pulled in the drive until an hour after they departed.
With the neighbors who would come for dinner only to have little paws creep up their legs until they could snatch small morsels off their laps.
With the house guests who had to keep their guest room door shut, because Ranger’s beagle nose could sense snacks and women’s underwear from 500 miles away.
We never knew what treasures we would find beneath guest room beds once our friends had departed. Poopy diapers? Crotch-eaten swimming suits? Torn-up tissues? Snuck-out trash?
At one point, Super-Spouse and I actually placed planks from an unused bunk bed around the frame of our bed, simply so Ranger couldn’t use the underneath portion of our bed for an illegal-snack hiding fortress. This simply moved the location of his contraband from our room to Superhero 1’s, who had a taller bed and rarely remembered to shut his door.
We tried stopping the trash thievery at the source by purchasing only trash cans with lids and by placing all waste dispensers off the ground, where Ranger couldn’t reach them. We even positioned a scat mat intended to keep cats off counters immediately in front of the kitchen trash can, which was his favorite source of contraband snacks.
The dog learned to step around it. We just shocked ourselves repeatedly in the middle of the night.
And this didn’t stop our sweet puppy from attempting to steal food from other locations.
Exhibit 1: the kitchen island.
Last summer, we hosted 20 extended family members for a July 4th barbecue during our big family reunion. I had prepared all the side dishes, but I was well aware of my talents, and I knew they ended at smoking meat.
So, to feed all our family members who had traveled to our area and were excited to try some BBQ, we catered out the pork and brisket.
Ranger apparently assumed that gesture was for him, because when we walked back into the kitchen after everyone had dished up firsts, we found him sitting in a pan of BBQ.
Downing $50 of brisket.
Covered in barbecue sauce.
My sweet, even-keeled husband almost lost his mind. And sweet, rascally Ranger almost lost his life.
In his good years, Ranger howled incessantly. He barked at every squirrel, notified us of every person in our neighborhood of duplexes trying to take a walk.
In his bad ones, he howled when he could hear. At the end, that was almost never.
For the last two years, as his hearing went out, so did his bladder.
At first, we thought it was a behavior issue.
He would pee on the floor anytime he wasn’t the center of attention, and he marked the front door frequently when we had guests over.
Nothing like thanking your new dinnertime friends than with the gift of urine in their shoes.
One weekend, after spending four days with Superhero 2 in Seattle, I returned home and, after the kids were tucked tightly in bed, attempted to reunite with the husband I had missed over the weekend.
Only Ranger who, for a large portion of our marriage has been the only male in my bed, protested the reunion.
By literally jumping onto the bed where we were lying.
And PEEING ON IT.
True love for Super-Spouse was not banning the beagle from the bedroom — and a future in our home — that night.
Although the peeing may have started as a behavior issue, after Ranger started consistently dribbling to the door and barking to go out every 20 to 40 minutes all day and night long, we knew there was more to his urination story.
Concerned, we took him to the vet and spent hundreds on testing of every kind, but every test returned negative, and there was nothing we could do to help him.
So, to manage his frequent urination, we tried doggy diapers.
He pulled a Houdini, released himself from one side of the diapers and then chewed them off his back side instead.
We tried pulling up his water bowl at night.
He ran across our property and drank from the pond.
We tried changing his food, changing his diet and walking him silly so he would be tired enough to sleep through the night. We returned to the vet, got second opinions, Googled our brains out and became experts at rapid pee clean-up.
So for the last two years, we simply took shifts letting our aging baby out — every 20 to 40 minutes, all night long.
We were exhausted. We were depleted. We were totally and utterly spent.
The thing is, no matter how sleep-deprived we were, no matter how much we complained, no matter how many times we wished we could sit down to family dinner without having someone excuse himself from the table every few minutes to pull the beagle from the trash or let him out the front door, we all knew that Ranger was FAMILY. And as much as we sometimes felt annoyed by this beagle who had been in our lives since Year 1 of marriage, we all loved him madly.
Because though his bladder was apparently made of paper, his heart was made of GOLD.
Every morning at 4 a.m., after I brewed the morning coffee and grabbed my laptop to check my morning email, he would leave his warm place in the bedroom and curl up beside me on the couch, or, when his back would no longer allow him to jump, sit curled in a blanket at my feet.
Though he had softer and warmer places to rest, he didn’t want me to be in the cold family room by myself all alone.
He snuggled with and licked the boys all day long.
And at night in bed, he pried Super-Spouse and me apart to squeeze directly between us and maximize the most cuddleage possible.
He was the gentlest and most submissive dog, and through boy tail pulls and dog chases and the many years of learning “gentle hands,” he never snapped. He never growled. He never once bit any of the boys, although most of them deserved it. He licked them to let them know when they were being too rough, and he wagged his tail incessantly anytime they were near.
His big brown eyes were truly the kindest you had ever seen, and his faithful and protective heart was just huge.
Through 10 major business trips and dozens of smaller ones through the years, Ranger made it his job to pull guard dog and defend the whole family while Super-Spouse was away.
He may have simply barked straight for 13 years at all the vicious flies, rodents and butterflies that maliciously crossed our windows, but he took his role as bodyguard very seriously (and even endured the Great Mace Incident of 2005 in the process).
Like the dog from the Marley and Me book the boys and I read this summer, he tried so hard, but it was almost as if this sweet soul just couldn’t help but be naughty.
Which is why, though we were exhausted, we just weren’t ready to let him go.
He was a good-bad dog that, although we found ourselves complaining about often, we loved fiercely.
And worried about.
By July, Ranger was practically deaf and almost completely incontinent. He was confronting serious arthritis and golf ball-sized lipomas that kept him from climbing, jumping, or sometimes even walking well. And after another round of vet appointments and testing, he was diagnosed with an inoperable and end-state spinal condition that the vet we adore and trust believed was affecting his ability to urinate.
Even so, after consulting with two vets, we felt he had a few good months to go.
And then last week, he took a mental dive. He ran away and directly into traffic three different times in one afternoon, rammed his head repeatedly against trash cans to empty them, barked continuously at things that weren’t there, returned to a kind of primal state where the only thing he could do was attempt to retrieve food from wherever he could find it. His eyes had changed, his cognition had decayed, and he nearly killed two drivers who swerved off the state highway to miss him when he dashed straight toward their tires and couldn’t hear them honk.
We consulted with our vet, and she agreed it was probably time.
So on Thursday night, we told the boys over dinner at Grandma’s, and on Friday after school, we said goodbye.
I held that dog who was once so cunning and feisty and stroked his now gray ears one last time, and then I passed him around to the boys, who kissed him and cried over him and struggled to let him go.
He had greeted every baby home from hospitals and airports, and none of them knew what life was like without him.
After they’d said goodbye, I scooped him up one last time, just to remember what that first baby who had so faithfully loved and protected me for more than a decade felt like against my chest.
And then Super-Spouse tenderly removed from my arms the same beagle he had so excitedly handed me 13 years ago, and the boys and I wept as we watched from the front window as he drove Ranger to the last vet appointment of his life.
In a split second, everything seemed different.
The room was too quiet.
The space seemed too empty.
No one was getting up to let a dog out or clean up a dog’s pee.
Unsure what to do in that moment, the four boys and I just sat there. Crying. Processing. Grieving. Mourning.
I was shocked by the sound of my own voice that was wailing almost uncontrollably alongside Superman’s.
I had no idea goodbye would feel like this.
After two years of urine clean-up duty and total sleep deprivation and playing caretaker for a dog who didn’t often these days want to show affection in return, I thought I would be ready.
I thought I might feel peace.
But instead, I fell apart.
I didn’t know how to do married life without Ranger by my side. He’d marked every memory of my entire adult life. I’d never lived in the same house with my husband without Ranger by our side. And I couldn’t handle the hole that, in five seconds outside our home, he had now left in my heart and life.
The boys and I just snuggled in tight, holding one another as we cried harder than any of us had seen the others cry, and then Superhero 1, who has his daddy’s amazing ability to lead with a level head in difficult situations, stepped in.
He led the boys to the trampoline, where they jumped out their tears, and then he brought them to the garage, where they decorated the casket their daddy had made for his first baby earlier that week.
After they’d written their letters and left their last words in paint and ink on the side of Ranger’s box, Superhero 1 handed each of the boys a digging tool, and together, we searched our property for the best place to lay our first baby to rest.
The boys found the perfect resting place at the back of the property — far enough away that they wouldn’t see the burial site each day, but close enough that they could visit Ranger anytime they wanted, a place shaded by tall grasses that provided privacy to anyone who might need a moment with man’s best friend.
For the entire hour Super-Spouse was away, they worked as a team to diligently dig their dog’s final hole. And when Super-Spouse returned, they helped sprinkle the hole with lime, prepare the box and lay their beloved friend three feet beneath the ground.
As we stood in the dark with only the light from a few camping headlights to reveal our tears, Super-Spouse, who held it together for all of us, gently asked each boy to share his final words. And then he handed each boy the shovel, and in turn, they scooped one pile of dirt and placed it on Ranger's grave.
The thud echoed mercilessly through each of our hollow-feeling hearts.
That night, as all of us cried and grieved and alternated falling apart one at a time, we celebrated the life of the beagle we all loved (and sometimes loved to complain about) in the most appropriate way we could imagine.
By heading to Dickey’s BBQ Pit to commemorate The Great Brisket Incident of 2016.
Ranger, we may not have always effectively shown you how much we loved you, and we may have said “No!” more than we said, “Eat the brisket, please!” But we love you. We miss you. And as I still now, three days later, wake up every 20 to 40 minutes all night long crying because there is now no little beagle who needs to go out, I want you to know something.
You, like Marley, were a wonderful, faithful, beautiful and GOOD DOG.
I don’t know if dogs can go to Heaven, but if they do, I hope you are spending eternity with brisket, women’s underwear and landfills of easily accessible trash, all just for you.
We love you. ❤️