I read the most humble and bittersweet story of a dog and his owner recently on social media. The excerpt describes how Tom — a guy who’d recently relocated to a small town — adopts a seemingly sedate, black Lab at the local shelter. Prior to leaving the shelter, officials handed Tom a duffel bag filled with the canine’s well used, familiar toys and dog pad. The story claims the new owner put the older stuffed animals aside, replacing them with a stash of cleaner, newer dog toys and balls.
Following the adoption, things appeared to go awry between the pair. Though Tom tried desperately to acclimate “Reggie” to his new surroundings, the canine seemed withdrawn, depressed and dejected. Reggie was not responsive when Tom called him, and lacked vivaciousness even with his collection of new toys.
At the second-week mark, Tom began contemplating his decision to adopt Reggie altogether. He had lost all faith in establishing any bond whatsoever with the Lab. In despair, Tom began gathering the dog’s things when Reggie began sniffing items from the old duffel bag. Tom looked inside and was taken aback to discover a sealed letter addressed to “whomever gets my dog.” The author turned out to be a serviceman, Paul Mallory, who had been deployed to Afghanistan.
In his handwritten note, Paul described how his dog loves tennis balls, often carrying two in his mouth simultaneously; he said he’d taught the canine to follow such commands as sit, stay, high five, roll over, shake paws, and lie down. Tom was quite surprised to learn Reggie loves riding in vehicles; he enjoys surrounding himself with other folks and animals.
What captured Tom’s attention most was that the shelter had gotten it all wrong. Reggie was not the pooch’s name after all. His former owner couldn’t fathom another human could develop the same kindred connection he had shared with his dog. Reggie was actually named Tank after the armored vehicle his owner, Paul, had been trained to maneuver during combat.
Prior to being deployed, Paul had given explicit instructions that Tank would only be made available for adoption if the comrade did not survive his tour of duty. Paul’s company commander would only notify the shelter officials in case of the soldier’s demise. Tank had been Paul’s only faithful companion during the six years they spent together.
The pair had forged a nearly unbreakable bond. This tearful letter entailed how leaving Tank in the hands of other caregivers was a huge challenge for Paul, understandably.
The last paragraph read, “Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, an extra kiss good night — every night — for me if I don’t return — Paul Mallory.”
As the story concluded, the trooper — who’d been fatally wounded during a stint in Iraq — was reportedly honored posthumously with a Silver Star, after having aided three fellow comrades to safety.
While some cynics dispute this story and its validity entirely, I prefer to believe in its authenticity. I feel certain that Paul Mallory, and hundreds of others like him, battle with the loves they leave behind while making their unwavering sacrifice in support of our country.
Kim Lambert is a former reporter with The Daily Record and former editor of The Angier Independent.