On Thursday night I saw a commercial about dogs in the animal shelter and thought maybe a dog would be a good companion for me. So on Saturday I went to the shelter. It was clean and the staff was friendly. After a lengthy discussion about my lifestyle and work schedule, they led me to a black Lab called Reggie. They thought Reggie and I would be a good fit and suggested I take him home. They said give him two weeks. If things don’t work out, you can bring him back.
I agreed to take Reggie home and they gave me all his things: a dog pad, his water and food dish, a large box of tennis balls and a sealed envelope with a letter from his previous owner.
Reggie and I struggled; we really didn’t hit it off. The problem was he wouldn’t go anywhere without having two tennis balls in his mouth and he would only sometimes follow commands like sit, stay, come and heel. The worst part though was that he never listened when I called his name. I would have to say it four or five times to get him to look in my direction, but then would go on doing whatever he was doing
After two weeks, I decided take Reggie back to the shelter. I just knew having him wasn’t going to work out. As I gathered up his things, his pad, the food dishes and all those damn tennis balls, I found that sealed letter the shelter had given me from his previous owner. I picked up the letter, sat on the sofa and opened the envelope. I said, “Okay Reggie, let’s see if your previous owner has any advice to make things work better for us before I take you back.” I opened the letter and here is what I read:
“Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this letter. I made it clear to the people at the animal shelter that it should only be opened by Reggie’s new owner. If you are reading this, it means you are Reggie’s new owner. Reggie knew something was different when we left for the car ride. When I packed up his pad and toys and set them by the back door this morning, he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong . . . which is why I have to try and make it right with this letter.
Let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you.
First, Reggie loves tennis balls. The more the merrier. Sometimes I think he’s part squirrel, the way he hoardes them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. He hasn’t done it yet. It doesn’t matter where you throw them, he’ll run after them, so be very careful – don’t throw them near 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 as well. When you put your hand straight up, it means go “back”. If you want him to “roll over”, put your hand out and turn it right or left. If you want a “paw” or “high-five”, put your hand up. He does “down” when you say down but only if he feels like lying down – I bet you could work with him on that to get it perfect. He knows “ball” and “food” and “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business. I’ve always trained Reggie with small treats. Nothing gets his attention like little pieces of a hot dog.
The feeding schedule I had him on was twice a day -- once about seven in the morning and again at six in the evening. I gave him regular store-bought food. The shelter should have the brand.
He’s up to date on his shots. Please call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with your information; they’ll make sure to send you reminders for when he’s due for future checkups. Be forewarned: Reggie really 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 always 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 try to 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.
This transition for him may be hard - having to go to live with someone new, so please give him time to adjust. 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 this morning I told them his name was Reggie. He’s a smart dog - he’ll get used to it and will respond to it, I have no doubt. But I just couldn’t bear to give them his real name. For me to do that seemed so final. 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 back, and tearing up this letter, it means everything went 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 any 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 both passed away and I have no siblings - no one I could have left Tank with . . . and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Afghanistan, that they have someone make one phone call to the shelter . . . in the “event” . . . to let the shelter staff know that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my squad leader is a dog guy and he said if anything happened to me, he would personally make the call. And if you’re reading this letter, then he made good on his word; he called the shelter and told them I would not be coming back for Tank.
Well, this letter is getting too downright depressing, even though I’m just writing it for my dog. I couldn’t imagine if I was writing this letter for a wife or kids, but Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as I have been in the Army.
I hope and pray that you will make Tank part of your family; I am sure he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love I got from Tank is what I am taking with me. His love is an inspiration for me to do something important, 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 that, then I am glad to have done so.
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 earlier today the first time I had to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll just peek in on him to see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.
Good luck with Tank. Please give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss good night – every night – just from me.
When I finished reading the letter, I looked over at Reggie who was lying on his pad and said, “Tank Come Here.” Tank quickly filled his mouth with "three tennis balls", ran over and jumped up on the sofa and put his head on my lap. I am not taking Tank back to shelter.