At a glance, Ranger looks like most other German Shepherd puppies. His ears are sightly bigger than his tiny body, which is covered in brown and black fur distinctive to the breed.
But don’t let his adorable face and diminutive size fool you, this little guy is no puppy at all.
Ranger, who lives in Arizona, USA, with his owners – sisters Shelby and Darcy Mayo – is a four-year-old adult with a rare genetic condition that’s trapped him permanently in puppyhood.
“When we originally got Ranger from the breeder, he was smaller than all his other litter mates, but we figured that was because he had a parasite called Coccidia,” his owners told Britain’s the Daily Mail newspaper.
The Mayos initially thought Ranger was the runt of the litter, and forked out hundreds of dollars for vet visits to find out what was wrong with their beloved pooch and to help him get back to health after parasitic infections, hair loss from thyroid issues and other ailments.
“Upon further investigation and consulting our vet, we discovered that he actually had pituitary dwarfism, which is caused by pure-bred inbreeding.”
A German Shepherd’s early growth is usually rapid, but the pint-sized pooch with a growth-hormone deficiency is only about one third of the size he should be at his age.
“When we first found out about Ranger’s condition we were in denial, but once we realised this was our new reality, we were relieved,” the sisters told website The Dodo. “In the months leading up to his diagnosis we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him and why he was having all his health issues.”
German Shepherds have an average lifespan of between nine and 12 years. This doggo is a little fighter, even with his growth condition, which doctors have warned could lead to shorter life expectancy. But Ranger has already lived longer than they initially predicted.
“He’s currently the healthiest he’s ever been,” Shelby says. “Mentally, he’s a full-grown German Shepherd, the only thing different is his size.”
And he’s something of a celeb on the socials. Ranger has raked in more than 140 000 pup-loving followers on his Instagram account thanks to his endearing head tilt and adorable puppy eyes.
On the account run by his humans, fans wish him good health and he can be seen enjoying playtime with his BFFs Hazel the Labrador and Jessie the German Shepherd.
Despite his fame and cute factor, the sisters have been committed to raising awareness of his condition, which has led to a long list of complications for their dog and is common in German Shepherds.
“It’s really nice to be helping other people and also raising awareness,” Darcy told CNN, adding that they don’t encourage nor condone breeding to create dwarfs. "We do our best to give them advice. It can be scary to think your dog is sick.”
While he’s small in stature, his owners say he’s one big ball of energy, Shelby told The Dodo.
“He definitely knows he’s small, but doesn’t let it affect his personality.”
SOURCES: DAILYMAIL.CO.UK, INDEPENDENT.COM, THE DODO.COM, EDITION.CNN.COM