Antony looked down at his sad Labrador as his trembling hands held onto the letter. He couldn’t believe what he had just read, the words “final” and “never see him again” bouncing around in his head.
This dog wasn’t like any other dog he’d come across. He couldn’t believe he had been ready to return the dog to the shelter.
Antony had been feeling lonely, considering he had recently moved to a new town. Adopting a pet for the company seemed like a grand idea.
Antony was lucky enough to find a local shelter looking to rehome a Labrador. He was thrilled, but as happy as he was, he had no idea what he was getting into.
Antony had walked into the shelter and turned into butter when he spotted “Reggie.” He was an adorable dog with excellent manners, and Antony wondered why the puppy hadn’t been snatched sooner.
He later found out Reggie didn’t pair with the previous applicants, and Antony wondered if he would be an exception. Could he be that different from the rest?
They had to test whether or not Reggie would adapt to the potential new home. Antony was sent off with an old box to kick off the two-week trial period.
Antony set Reggie up in his car and drove him home. His body thrummed with excitement at the prospect of having a new dog, but it soon dwindled when things didn’t start as well as he’d thought.
The dog constantly acted out, and training didn’t change anything. Antony worried when he noticed Reggie never swayed from his miserable mood and tried his best to coax him out of his shell. The dog was more stubborn than Antony would have liked.
Antony had spent his childhood with dogs and knew how to handle them, so he couldn’t understand why Reggie was so different. Why wouldn’t he take to him? However, this dog was genuinely different, and Antony had no way of guessing by how much.
Antony had tried everything, but nothing changed. He could not click with the dog, and he felt hopeless. He began to give up on the prospect of ever connecting with him.
He didn’t want to do it but he thought it would be for the best. Antony decided to take Reggie back to the shelter when he noticed something that would change everything.
Antony recalled the shelter giving him something when he took Reggie home. They had given him an old box. Perhaps there was something inside that he would find to help with the situation.
He rushed to find the box and sifted through what was inside. He found some old toys, an old sleeping pad, and a sealed letter from the previous owner. He was curious about the letter and began to open it, but he had no idea what was in store for him.
Antony held the letter and took a deep breath to ready himself. Antony noticed Reggie’s big brown eyes watching him, making his heart squeeze.
He prayed that the letter held some advice that would help him and the poor dog. But as he read, he realized the letter was not what he had expected.
The previous owner wrote, “If you are reading this, it means that I have just gotten back from dropping my Labrador off at the shelter. It was my last car ride with him.”
“He could tell something was strange. I am writing this in hopes that you will be able to bond with him or so that he will be more inclined to bond with you. So let me tell you more about him.”
Antony had been looking for this, and he felt his muscles relax as relief washed over him. As he continued to read, he hoped his relationship with the Lab could be saved.
He read that Reggie loved tennis balls and chuckled when he read that the Lab often tried to fit as many in his mouth as possible. He hadn’t been reading for much longer when he found the warning.
“Doesn’t matter where you throw the balls, he’ll bounce after it, so be careful — really don’t do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.”
Antony picked up one of the worn, green balls. Reggie jumped up, tail wagging. It was the first sign of real energy. But Antony had no idea things were about to get even more strange.
The sleeping pad worked too, and he snuggled in. There was also useful information about past training techniques. “He knows ‘ball’ and ‘food’ and ‘bone’ and ‘treat’ like nobody’s business.”
“I trained Reggie with small food treats,” the letter continued, “Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog.” But the next piece of advice that Antony read hit hard.
“Finally, give him some time. I’ve never been married, so it’s only been Reggie and me for his whole life,” the letter continued.
“He’s gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. It will be hard. And that’s why I need to share one more bit of info with you.” Antony was not expecting what the owner would say next.
“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,” the letter continued.
“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.” The letter then revealed why.
“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,” the previous owner confessed.
“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…”
“His name’s not Reggie. His real name is Tank. Because that is what I drive,” the letter revealed. Anthony’s eyes widened. It turns out that the previous owner was a soldier deployed to Iraq.
Antony was lost for words at the truth. But the situation with the soldier and his dog was about to get even more heartbreaking.
“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,” the letter continued.
“… 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,” Antony read.
“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,” the soldier wrote.
“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,” the letter continued.
“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.”
Having no family or friends to leave Tank with, the heartbroken soldier was forced to leave his beloved dog in a shelter. Antony stopped reading to let the weight of his words sink in.
The letter was signed off by a man named Paul Mallory, and as soon as Antony read the name he knew it sounded familiar. Suddenly, a terrible feeling hit the pit of his stomach.
It had been during the first couple of months in Antony’s new home that he had heard that familiar name.
There had been a story about a young man who would have received a Silver Star for heroically saving three fellow soldiers during his deployment in Iraq – and sadly, he was a soldier who didn’t make it back home.
Antony looked at the Labrador and whispered, “Tank?” The dog’s tail wagged, ears perked and he came in for a snuggle. The transformation was astounding. Antony couldn’t believe it!
He was happy he found the letter from Tank’s previous owner, but what he read next would make his eyes well up and rip his heart in two.
Antony picked up all the tennis balls from the box and tossed them down the hallway. Tank jumped around, clearly bursting with excitement when he saw the balls – he was acting like a puppy!
As the dog quickly dashed after the balls, Antony read the final part of the letter. These last words shattered his heart into a million tiny pieces.
“All the best of luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight- every night – from me. Thank you.”
Out of all the dogs at the shelter, Antony had ended up with this one. The best friend of a fallen hero. Tank returned … with three tennis balls in his mouth.
Antony folded the letter back up and slipped it back into its envelope. He sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking about all the flags that had been flown at half-mast all summer.
He leaned forward in his chair, wiped the tears from his eyes, and looked at Tank. “Hey Tank,” he said quietly.
Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, more than 1.9 million Americans have been deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
These brave men and women had to give up their lives and families to serve and protect their country. As of 2019, more than 7,000 of those 1.9 million never made it home. That much is true.
There have been several articles that debate whether or not this story is true. Aside from inconsistencies about not opening the letter sooner, database searches have not shown anyone that fits Mallory’s description.
There also appears to be no record of a Silver Star going to that name. There is, however, one thing that everyone agrees on.
Tank’s story doesn’t have to be true to be important or impactful. There are countless soldiers who have had to give up their pets. Dogs on Deployment and Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet are places that help with fostering or finding forever homes. Reach out. Maybe you’ll find a special friend and fulfill someone’s wish.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.