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A Tank

Sometimes I come across a story that, true or not (snopes says it is not), it just makes me hope that it is, because the story has so captured my imagination, my emotions or my heart. Such was the following story:

 

They told me the big black Lab’s name was Reggie,as I looked at him lying in his pen..  The shelter wasclean, and the people really friendly.I’d only been in the area for six months, but everywhereI 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 tosettle in to my new life here, and I thought a dogcouldn’t hurt.  Give me someone to talk to.And I had just seen Reggie’s advertisement on the localnews.  The shelter said they had received numerouscalls right after, but they said the people who had comedown to see him ju st didn’t look like “Labpeople,” 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 tennisballs, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner.  See, Reggie and I didn’t really hit it offwhen 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 inhis 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 hesettled 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 mydirection 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 twoweeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on searchmode for my cell phone amid all of my unpacked stuff.  Iremembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guestroom, 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 theshelter’s number, I also found his pad and other toysfrom the shelter…I tossed the pad in Reggie’sdirection and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the mostenthusiasm I’d seen since bringing him home.  Butthen I called, “Hey, Reggie, you like that?  Comehere 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.”

ToWhoever Gets My Dog:

Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this, a letter I told the sheltercould 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 haveto 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 partsquirrel, the way he hordes them.  He usually alwayshas two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third inthere.  Hasn’t done it yet.  Doesn’tmatter where you throw them, he’ll bound after it, so becareful – really don’t do it by any roads.  I madethat mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.

Next, commands.  Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I’ll go over themagain:  Reggie knows the obvious ones —“sit,”  “stay,”  “come,” “heel.” 

He knows hand signals:”back” to turn around and go back when you putyour hand straight up; and “over” if you put yourhand out right or left.  “Shake” for shakingwater off, and “paw” for a high-five.  Hedoes “down” when he feels like lying down — I betyou 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 inthe evening.   Regular store-bought stuff; the shelterhas the brand.

He’s up on his shots.Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info withyours; they’ll make sure to send you reminders for whenhe’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 Reggieand me for his whole life.  He’s gone everywherewith me, so please include him on your daily car rides ifyou can.  He sits well in the backseat, and hedoesn’t bark or complain.  He just loves to bearound people, and me most especially.

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

And that’s why I need to shareone 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 themhis name was Reggie.

He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to it

and will respond to it, of that I have nodoubt.  But I just couldn’t bear to give them hisreal name.  For me to do that, it seemed so final, thathanding him over to the shelter was as good as me admittingthat I’d never see him again.  And if I end upcoming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, itme ans everything’s fine.  But if someone else isreading it, well … well it means that his new owner shouldknow his real name.  It’ll help you bond withhim.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even notice a changein 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 thisand you’re from the area, maybe my name has been on thenews.  I told the shelter that they couldn’t make”Reggie” available for adoption until theyreceived word from my company commander.  See, myparents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could’veleft Tank with … and it was my only real request of theArmy upon my deployment to Iraq , that they make one phone..call the shelter … in the “event” … to tellthem that Tank could be put up for adoption.  Luckily,my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoonwas headed.  He said he’d do itpersonally.  And if you’re reading this, thenhe made good on his word.

Well, this letter is getting downright depressing,

even though, frankly, I’m justwriting it for my dog.  I couldn’t imagine if I waswriting it for a wife and kids and family … but still,Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost aslong as the Army has been my family.

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

That unconditional love from a dogis what I take with me to Iraq as an inspiration to dosomething selfless, to protect innocent people from thosewho would do terrible things … and to keep those terriblepeople from coming over here.  If I have to give up Tankin order to do it, I am glad to have done so.  He ismy example of service and of love.  I hope I honoredhim by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that’s enough.I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off atthe shelter.  I don’t think I’ll say anothergood-bye to Tank, though.  I cried too much the firsttime.  Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if hefinally 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, evennew 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 onthe hardwood floor.  He sat in front of me, his headtilted, 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 eachtime, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posturerelaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to floodhim.  I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buriedmy 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 andlicked 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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