6-28-2011 A Great Dog Story

A GREAT DOG STORY

 

They told me the big  black Lab’s name was Reggie,
as I looked at him lying in his  pen.. The shelter was
clean, no-kill, and the people really  friendly.
I’d only been in the area for six months, but  everywhere
I went in the small college town, people were  welcoming and open.
Everyone waves when you  pass them on the street.

But something was still missing as I  attempted to
settle in to my new life here, and I thought a  dog
couldn’t hurt. Give me someone to talk to.
And I had just  seen Reggie’s advertisement on the local
news. The shelter said  they had received numerous
calls right after, but they said the  people who had come
down to see him just didn’t look like  “Lab
people,” whatever that meant. They must’ve thought I  did.

But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in  giving me Reggie and his things,
which consisted of a dog  pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis
balls,  his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner. See, 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 of 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. But it became pretty clear pretty soon that he  wasn’t going to.

I tried the normal commands the shelter told  me he knew, ones like “sit” and “stay” and
“come” and “heel,” and  he’d follow them – when he felt like it.

He never really seemed  to listen when I called his name — sure, 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 ask again, you  could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey.

This just  wasn’t going to work. He chewed a couple 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 th e two
weeks to be up, and when it  was, I was in full-on search
mode for my cell phone amid all of  my unpacked stuff. I
remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes  for the guest
room, but I also 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 also found  his pad and other toys
from the shelter…I tossed the pad in  Reggie’s
direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the  most
enthusiasm I’d seen since bringing him home. But
then 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  “glared”
is more accurate — and then gave a discontented sigh  and flopped down … with his back to me.

Well, that’s not  going to do it either, I thought. And I punched the shelter phone  number.

But I hung up when I saw the sealed  envelope.
I had completely  forgotten about that, too.
“Okay, Reggie,” I said  out loud,
“let’s see if your  previous owner has any advice.”

____________ _________  _________ _________

To
Whoever Gets My  Dog:

Well, I can’t say that  I’m happy you’re reading this, a letter I told the shelter
could  only be opened by Reggie’s new owner.
I’m not even happy writing  it. If you’re reading this,

it means 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.

And something  is wrong…which is why I have
to go  to try to make it right.

So let me tell you about my Lab in  the hopes that it
will help you bond with  him and he with you.

First, he loves tennis balls.
The  more the merrier. Sometimes I think he’s part
squirrel, the way  he hordes them. He usually always
has two in his mouth, and he  tries to get a third in
there. Hasn’t done 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 —
“sit,” “stay,”  “come,” “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 out right or left. “Shake” for  shaking
water off, and “paw” for a high-five. He
does “down”  when he feels like lying down — I bet
you could work on that  with him some more. He knows
“ball” and “food” and “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 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: Reggie 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.
I’ve never been married, so it’s only been  Reggie
and me 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 he
doesn’t bark or complain. He  just loves to be
around people, and me most  especially.

Which means that this transition is
going to  be hard, with him going to live with someone new.

And that’s  why I need to share
one more bit of info with you….

His  name’s not Reggie.

I don’t know what made me do it,  but  
when I dropped him off  at the shelter, I told them
his name was Reggie.  
He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to  it
 
and will respond to it,  of that I have no
doubt. But I just couldn’t bear to give them  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. And if I end up
coming  back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it
means  everything’s fine. But if someone else is
reading it, well …  well 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 you’re  from the area, maybe my name has been on the
news. I told the  shelter that they couldn’t make
“Reggie” available for adoption  until they
received word from my company commander. See,  my
parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I  could’ve
left Tank with … and it was my only real request of  the
Army upon my deployment to Iraq ,  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, and he knew where my  platoon
was headed. He said he’d do it
personally. And if  you’re reading this, then
he made good on his word.

Well,  this letter is getting downright  depressing,
even though, frankly,  I’m just
writing it for my dog. I couldn’t imagine if I  was
writing it for a wife and kids and family … but  still,
Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost  as
long as the Army has been my family.

And now I hope and  pray that you
make him part of your family and that he will  adjust and
come to love you the same way he loved me.

That  unconditional love from a dog
is what I take with me to  Iraq as an inspiration to do
something  selfless, to protect innocent people from those
who would do  terrible things … and to keep those terrible
people from coming  over here. If I have to give up Tank
in order to do it, I am glad  to have done so. He is
my example of service and of love. I hope  I honored
him by my service to my country 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, though. 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 months ago  and posthumously earning the Silver Star

when he gave his life to  save three buddies.
Flags had been at  half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested  my elbows on 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 whatdaya say we play some ball?”  
His ears perked  again.
“Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?”  
Tank tore from my hands  and disappeared in the next room.

And when he came back, he  had three tennis balls in his mouth.


If you can read this  without getting a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye, don’t  send me anymore emails, you just ain’t  right.

One thought on “6-28-2011 A Great Dog Story

  1. Nancy Callaghan

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful story. I am a dog person and am so glad that you decided to keep Tank. We have three rescue dogs in this family. Riley, the first, is now 11. We got her when she was 3. She was in a house with 49 dogs and some of them were brought to Animal Welfare, Chicago Ridge, IL. She was abused and skinny. Now she is happy and healthy. Oliver was the next rescue dog, a 6-mo. old puppy, shepherd-hound mix, looks like part Rottweiler. Big dog, gentle spirit. Loves people. Lainey is the next rescue pup. Half Maltese, half dachshund. Pint sized but very energetic and lovable. My daughter was lonely at college and decided to get her from the local shelter. So I hope you and Tank can be as happy as we are with our dogs. They add so much joy to our family life!

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