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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 of 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

  the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on

  search mode for my cellphone 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 to 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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