Today is Valentine’s Day and we couldn’t think of a more beautiful story than the one you’ll read here today. It’s been around the internet for awhile, but unlike most internet stories this one appears to be authentic. There has been, however, questions as to exactly which welfare organization had the dog. While the name of the shelter has varied among different reports, a well-known, reputable one has vouchsafed the story with credible leads and materials. In spite of this divergence, however, what has never changed, in any report, is the substance of the letter you will read today. But, we must warn you: have a box of tissues handy for the tears about to fall. Here then, for our readers on this special day, a truly beautiful love letter.
They told Tom the big black Lab’s name was Reggie as he looked at him lying in his pen. Tom had only been in the small college town area for six months, but people seemed friendly. Still, like everyone who’s ever moved to a place where you don’t know anyone, he felt lonely. So, he decided to get a dog. A dog would fill up the empty spaces in his life and maybe be a catalyst for making new friends.
He gave the local animal shelter a vague idea of the kind of dog he’d like and they picked out Reggie for him. But things didn’t start off well. It seemed the shelter had misjudged him in giving him Reggie. They were not a good match and Reggie and Tom didn’t hit it off when they got home. The shelter had given Tom a box with Reggie’s things, including a dog pad, a bag of toys almost all of which were new tennis balls, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner.
Tom and his new dog struggled for two weeks–which is how long the shelter said to give him to adjust to his new home. Maybe it was the fact that Tom was trying to adjust, too.
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 Tom’s other unpacked boxes.
Tom tried all the regular commands the shelter said he knew, ones like “stay,” and “come,” and “heel,” and Reggie would follow them … when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when his name was called. When he was asked again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey.
The relationship just wasn’t working. Reggie chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes. Tom, exasperated, couldn’t find a way to reach the dog. He seemed intelligent enough, but whatever Tom requested, the dog either ignored or seemed to resent. The friction got so bad that Tom couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, he was in full-on search mode for his cell phone amid all of his unpacked stuff.
Finally he found it, but before he could punch up the shelter’s number, he also found Reggie’s pad and other toys from the shelter. Tom tossed the pad in Reggie’s direction and he sniffed it and wagged his tail, the most enthusiasm he’d shown since arriving at his new home.
But then Tom called, “Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I’ll give you a treat.” Instead, the dog sort of glanced in his direction … maybe ‘glared’ is more accurate … and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down, with little to no interest.
Well, that’s not going to do it either, Tom thought. And he punched the shelter phone number.
But he hung up when he saw the sealed envelope. It had been completely forgotten and ignored until now. “Okay, Reggie,” Tom said out loud, “lets see if your previous owner has any advice.”
The note was addressed:
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.
My last visit with my dog was when I dropped him at the shelter. He knew something was different… I had 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 was wrong … which is why I had 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. This 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 too 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 thing … 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
Tom folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure he had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously being awarded the Silver Star because he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.
He leaned forward in his chair, rested his elbows on his knees, and said quietly: “Hey, Tank.” 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 Tom, his head tilted; searching for the name he hadn’t heard in months.
“Tank,” Tom whispered. His tail swished.
He 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. Tom stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried his 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 his cheek. “So whatdaya say we play some ball?” His ears perked again. “Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?” Tank tore from Tom’s hands and disappeared in the next room.
And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.