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Reggie

Post 4 of 11

dogThey 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.

Reggie and I didn’t really hit it off
when we got home.

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 and stored. 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.

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.
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 tension between us wasn’t good. I gave myself the two weeks the shelter said it would take for him to adjust. Then if all else failed, I was going to return him.
When the two weeks were up, I went searching for the paperwork I got at the shelter.
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. Just before I dialed the shelter, I saw the sealed envelope they’d given me. 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 to
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 took 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 had to give up Tank
in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He was
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.

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