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
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 cell phone 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 “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
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
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
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
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 problem
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.
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
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.
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
“Hey, Tank,” I said quietly.
The dog’s head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.
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
what do you 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.