Dog’s tale ends happily |

Dog’s tale ends happily

Jeremy Heiman

The 7-year-old collie was found Jan. 3 on Highway 82 near the Aspen airport. His far-ranging journey over, Ranger was whisked away to the Aspen Animal Shelter. But he would spend some long days behind bars before he would find his way home again.

Ranger’s long journey can be traced back to a leg injury. Jan. 2, the day his owners, the McMichaels, discovered he was gone, was the same day Timothy McMichael was scheduled for knee surgery. As a result, an all-out search for the family canine couldn’t be launched immediately.

By the time the McMichaels and their 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter did begin the search, Ranger had apparently ranged far and wide. Calls to animal shelters in the Eagle Valley turned up nothing.

By then, Ranger had somehow reached Aspen, and was hanging out at the shelter. Tim McMichael said Ranger normally wears a collar with tags, but it was missing when he showed up at the shelter.

How a three-legged dog made it through the hills to the Roaring Fork Valley is a mystery.

“Nobody has any idea how the dog got to Aspen,” said local shelter volunteer Bland Nesbit. But the three-legged collie was clearly well trained.

“I thought for sure, 100 percent, that the owner would come looking for him, because he was incredibly friendly and well behaved,” said shelter manager Seth Sachson.

But day after day went by, and no one came.

After nine days, any animal in the shelter becomes the property of the shelter, Sachson said. So when the ninth day came and went, Ranger was dubbed “Cooper” by the shelter’s volunteers and was vaccinated and examined by a veterinarian. He was in good health, and his amputation was found to be old and professionally done.

Shelter volunteers walked the dog every day, Sachson said, and he soon became a favorite of everyone. Nesbit said “Cooper” was the ideal dog.

“He was just a sweet dog,” Nesbit said, “friendly, calm, obviously well trained.”

The Aspen Times runs an advertisement for the shelter nearly every day, with pictures of all the animals available for adoption and a brief description of each. Sachson said Nesbit, who photographs the animals for the ads, came up with an idea that would ultimately lead to Ranger being reunited with his family.

“Bland had the bright idea to not give him a name in the paper,” Sachson said. So instead of the name “Cooper” under Ranger’s picture in the Times ad, the caption read, “Do you know me?”

A neighbor of the McMichaels, a ski instructor who was doing some work in Snowmass Village, saw the ad and recognized Ranger. He called the frantic family and told them of Ranger’s whereabouts.

“We were elated,” Tim McMichael said.

Ranger, however, may have been the most elated of all. When Tim picked him up at the shelter on Feb. 1, “The dog got more excited than I’d ever seen him,” Sachson said.

Though the possibility remains that Ranger made a Disney-like journey through the snow and among the wild animals of Colorado’s backcountry, Tim McMichael believes otherwise.

“He gets tired just walking around the block. That’s a lot of hopping to get all the way to Aspen,” he said.

Ranger lost his leg several years ago when he was bitten by a female Rottweiler.

Sachson said he believes the Aspen Animal Shelter’s “no-kill” policy may have saved Ranger’s life in the 30 days the dog stayed at the shelter.

“In a normal shelter, odds are he would have been euthanized in that month,” he said. In that respect, Sachson said, he and his volunteers are proud of Ranger’s story.

“It was kind of like a three-legged Lassie story,” Sachson said.

Sachson said the McMichaels believed Ranger had been struck by a car or killed by coyotes, and the whole family was relieved and pleasantly surprised to learn Ranger had been vacationing in Aspen.

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