They told me the big black Lab’s name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean and the people friendly. At first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things. “His things” consisted of a dog pad and a bag of toys, almost all of which were brand new tennis balls. Also there were his dishes and a sealed letter from his previous owner. Reggie and I didn’t really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home. Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust too. Maybe we were too much alike.
For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls – he wouldn’t go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn’ t really think he’d need all his old stuff, that I’d get him new things once he settled in. However, it became clear pretty soon that he wasn’t going to.
I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, like “sit” “stay” “come” and “heel.” He’d follow them when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name. He’d look in my direction after the fourth or fifth time I said it, but then he’d just go back to doing whatever; When I’d call again you could almost see him sigh and the grudgingly obey.
This just wasn’t going to work. He chewed on a couple of shoes and some unpacked boxes. I was a little too stern with him and he resented it I could tell. The friction got so bad that I couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up. When it finally was, I was in full-on search mode for my cell phone amid all my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room. I mumbled, rather cynically, that the “damn dog probably hid it on me.”
Finally I found it, but before I could punch up the shelter’s number, I found his pad and toys from the shelter. I tossed the pad in Reggie’s direction. He sniffed it and wagged with the most enthusiasm I’d seen since bringing him home. I called, “Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I’ll give you a treat.” Instead he sort of glanced in my direction – maybe glare is more accurate – gave a discontented sigh and flopped down with his back to me.
“Well, that’s not going to do it either,” I thought and punched the shelter phone number. Then I saw the sealed envelope and hung up. I had completely forgotten about it.
“Okay, Reggie”, I said out loud, “Let’s see if your previous owner has any advice.”
To Whomever Gets My Dog:
Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this. I told the shelter it could only be opened by Reggie’s new owner. I’m not even happy writing it.
If you’re reading this, it me ans I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different. I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time… it’s like he knew something was wrong. Something is wrong… which is why I have to go, to try to make it right.
Let me tell you about my Lab in hopes that it will help you bond with him and him with you: First, he loves tennis balls…the more the merrier. Sometimes I think he’s part squirrel the way he hoards them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to ge t a third in there. He hasn’t made it yet. Doesn’t matter where you throw them, he’ll bound after it so be careful. Really, don’t do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.
Next, commands.. Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I ll go over them again. Reggie knows the obvious ones like “sit” “stay” “come” and “heel”. He knows hand signals: “back” to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up, and “over” if you put your hand our right or left. “Shake” for shaking water off, and “paw” for a high-five. He does “down” when he feels like lying down – you could work on that with him some more. He knows “ball” “food” “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business. I trained Reggie with small food treats. Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.
Feeding schedule: twice a day, once about seven in the morning and again at six in the evening. Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand.
He’s up on all his shots. Call the clinic on 9th street and update his info with yours; they’ll make sure to send you reminders for when he’s due. Be forewarned, he hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car; I don’t know how he knows when it’s time to go to the vet, but he knows.
Finally give him some time to get to know you. I’ve never been married, so it’s only been the two of us for his whole life. He’s gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and doesn't bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, me, most especially.
That means that this transition is going to be hard, with him going to live with someone new. Which is why I need to share one more bit of info with you, his name is not Reggie. I don’t know what made think of that, but I told the shelter his name was Reggie. He’s a smart dog. He’ll get used to it and will respond to it, I have no doubt. I just couldn’t bear to tell them him his real name. For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I’d never see him again. If I come back to get him and tear up this letter it will mean that everything’s fine. If someone else is reading it, it means that his new owner should know his real name. It’ll help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you’ll even notice a change in his demeanor if he’s been giving you problems.
His real name is Tank, because that is what I drive. Again, if you’re reading this and youE2re from the area, maybe my name has been on the news. I told the shelter that they couldn’t make him available for adoption until they received word from m y company commander. See, my parents are gone; I have no siblings, no one I could leave Tank with. My only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq was that they make one phone call, the shelter, in the “event,” to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy too. He knew where my platoon was headed and said he’d call personally. If you’re reading this, then he made good on his word.
Well, this is getting to downright depressing, even though, I’m just writing it for my dog. I can’t imagine if I were writing it for a wife and family. Still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family.
Now, I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust and love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love from a dog is what I took with me to Iraq as in inspirations to do something to protect innocent people from those who do terrible things and to keep those terrible people from coming over here. If I had to give up Tank in order to do it, I’m glad to have done so. He is my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my co untry and comrades.
All right, that’s enough.
I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. I don’t think I’ll say another good-bye to Tank. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.
Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home and give him an extra kiss goodnight every night from me.
Thank you, Paul Mallory
I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few month ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags have been at half-mast all summer.
I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows o n my knees, staring at the dog. “Hey Tank,” I said quietly.
The dog’s head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright. “C’mere boy.”
He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted; searching for the name he hadn’t heard in months.
“Tank,” I whispered. His tail swished. I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.
“It’s me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me.” Tank reached up and licked my cheek. “So what d’ya say we play some ball?” His ears perked again.
“Yeah, ball. You like that? Ball?”
Tank tore from my hands and disappeared into the next room and when he came back… he had three tennis balls in his mouth.