'Danielle keeps repeating it over and over again. We've been back to this animal shelter at least five times. It has been weeks now since we started all of this', the mother told the volunteer. 'What is it she keeps asking for?', the volunteer asked. 'Puppy size!, replied the mother. 'Well, we have plenty of puppies, it that's what she's looking for'. 'I know... We have seen most of them,' the mom said in frustration... Just then Danielle came walking into the office. 'Well, did you find one?' asked her mom. 'No, not this time,' Danielle said with sadness in her voice. 'Can we come back on the weekend?'
The two women looked at each other, shook their heads and laughed. 'You never know when we will get more dogs. Unfortunately, there's always a supply,' the volunteer said. Danielle took her mother by the hand and headed to the door. 'Don't worry, I'll find one this weekend,' she said. Over the next few days. Both Mom and Dad had long conversations with her. They both felt she was being too particular. 'It's this weekend or we're not looking any more,' Dad finally said in frustration. 'we don't want to hear anything more about puppy size, either,' Mom added. Sure enough, they were the first ones in the shelter on Saturday morning. By now Danielle knew her way around, so she ran right for the section that housed the smaller dogs.
Tired of the routine, mom sat in in the small waiting room at the end of the first row of cages. There was an observation window so you could see the animals during times when visitors weren't permitted. Danielle walked slowly from cage to cage, kneeling periodically to take a closer look. One by one the dogs were brought out and she held each one. One by one she said, 'Sorry, but you're not the one. It was the last cage on this last day in search of the perfect pup. The volunteer opened the cage door and the child carefully picked up the dog and held it closely. This time she took a little longer. 'Mom, that's it! I found the right puppy! He's the one! I know it!' she screamed with joy. 'It's the puppy size!'
'but it's the same size as all the other puppies you held over the last few weeks,' Mom said. 'No not size... The sighs. When I held him in my arms, he sighed,' she said. Don't you remember? When I asked you one day what love is, you told me love depends on the sighs of your heart. The more you love, the bigger the sigh!' The two women looked at each other for a moment. Mom didn't know whether to laugh or cry. As she stooped down to hug the child, she did a little of both. 'Mom, every time you hold me, I sigh. When you and Daddy come home from work and hug each other, you both sigh. I knew I would find the right puppy if it sighed when I held it in my arms,' she said. Then, holding the puppy up close to her face, she said, 'Mom, he loves me. I heard the sighs of his heart!'
Close your eyes for a moment and think about the love that makes you sigh. I not only find it in the arms of my loved ones, but in the caress of a sunset, the kiss of the moonlight and the gentle brush of cool air on a hot day. They are the sighs of God. Take the time to stop and listen; you will be surprised at what you hear.
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 thougth 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 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 really didn't think he'd need all his old stuff, that I'd get him new things once he settled in, but it became pretty clear that he wasn't going to.
I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like sit, stay, come and heel. He would follow them, when he felt like it. He never seemed to listen when I called hi name. Sure he'd look in my direction 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 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 remember leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the "crazy 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 sniffed 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, as I punched the shelter phone number.
But, I hung up when I was 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, over - if you put your hand straight up, 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 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 stull; 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 for 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 to 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... 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 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.
God Bless Our Troops!
Thank you for your service to our country.
2012 HERITAGE SERVICE DOGS
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