Perhaps dogs have souls. Perhaps they live lives every bit as emotionally rich as ours. These are questions of open debate among those who have been lucky enough to count dogs among their friends, and a non-issue among those who haven’t. One thing is certain. Dogs have personalities as unique as snowflakes, fingerprints, and scatterings of golden leaves on the autumn ground.

Dog are trainable, and agreeable enough to accept that training, but no amount of training buries the personality underneath. No training can completely subvert the drives that make dogs the perfect companions for us poor, wandering two-leggers.

In the case of Hunter, that personality appeared right out of the gate. He’s a chicken-butt, a nervous Nellie, and the captain of the fun police. He cowers every forth of July as the fireworks boom and crackle. He responds to other dogs, runners and bicyclists with fear aggression, and he works semi-aggressively to maintain a respectable level of calm among our other, entirely-too-playful dogs.

Hunter inherited pack leadership from Austin, who wore his own crown with ease as all Australian Shepherds seem to do. Austin’s second in command rose to the top in the natural order, but never wears it in natural style. He worries, he frets, he runs behind his mama’s legs at the first sign of conflict, and perhaps most importantly, he is roundly ignored by his theoretical followers.

But none of that matters.

Hunter displays the highest levels of greatness in the most important ways. He’s a black Labrador – Aussie mix of medium bulk who is entirely, completely devoted to his number one human. He will follow her anywhere, and he will overcome his natural nerves to protect her against all the random dangers in the world, real or imagined. He will unfailingly appear at the front window to greet her upon her return. Though not normally excitable, he will set his stub of a tail wiggling at the sound of her voice, and in his quiet way, he will gaze upon her like the pure goddess he sees before him. To look into his eyes is to see deep into an uncanny well of intelligence and understanding that only old dogs with old souls possess. He sees and he understands. He cares.

Then he ignores commands. You see, his goddess is not the alpha in his eyes. She’s the source. Sometimes she needs a little help to understand what is necessary, and Hunter is there to assist. At the first sign of a leash, he will take command, grab the leash in his mouth and lead her directly out the door. At the correct time each night, he herds her to bed, proceeds to curl up on his own plush accommodations right next to her like an over-sized black bean, issues a couple of room destroying farts, and guards her through the night.

In other words, Hunter is one of a million definitions of the perfect dog, and he turns twelve today. Happy birthday, old man.

JF Perkins