I have just moved to the small college town about six months ago and couldn’t be happier. The people were very friendly and wherever you go, they tried to make you feel welcomed. As I settled in, a thought of having a dog popped into my mind and I decided that it was a great idea.
I went to a local no-kill shelter and they offered me Reggie. Reggie was a black lab and there were numerous calls about him as soon as his ad was published, but the shelter was uncomfortable with all of them, saying they weren’t “Lab people, whatever that meant. For some reason, they have decided that I am, and let me adopt him. They packed his toys, which were mostly tennis balls, his dishes and a sealed letter from a previous owner, which I completely forgot as soon as we came home.
For the first two weeks, we didn’t really click. Then I remembered the letter and I opened it, hoping to find some useful advice from the previous owner. I found a lot more than I was hoping for.
“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. He knew something was different.
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 hoards 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 them, so be careful. Don’t do it by any roads.
Next, commands. Reggie knows the obvious ones —“sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel.” He knows hand signals, too: He knows “ball” and “food” and “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business. Feeding schedule: twice a day, regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand. He’s up on his shots. 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. 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.
And that’s why I need to share one more bit of info with you… His name’s not 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. But if someone is reading this … well it means that his new owner should know his real name. His real name is “Tank.” Because, that is what I drive. I told the shelter that they couldn’t make “Reggie” available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. You 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 to the shelter … in the “event” … to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my CO 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. 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, too, and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me. If I have to give up Tank to keep those terrible people from coming to the US 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. 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.”
I sat there with the letter in my hands, thinking about the flag in front of the town hall being at half-mast the whole summer. It was lowered in memory of Paul Mallory, a local kid who was killed in Iraq saving the lives of his three buddies. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his sacrifice.
I looked at the black dog in my living room. “Hey, Tank,” I said quietly. The response was immediate. His ears cocked and his head whipped to face me. I called him again and he got up and slowly approached me. I repeated his name several times and each time, he seemed more relaxed. Finally, I said:” You want to play with some balls, buddy? Do you?” I didn’t even finish the sentence and Tank bolted to the other room where his toys were and came back running. He had three balls in his mouth.