Staff Sgt. Ammo, part 1

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Dad, happy birthday to yooooouuuuuu!”

At the other end of the line, my dad laughed. “Why, thank you. You two should take your act on the road.”

Pete chuckled. I said, “We could do singing telegrams. Spread the joy. What are you doing this evening?”

“Val’s making dinner.”

“Barb’s not making dinner?”

Dad made a small sound that I couldn’t entirely interpret. “Barb doesn’t make dinner.”

Pete said, “She could take you out to dinner.”

“She could. She’s not.”

Pete and I gave each other a “yikes” look. I said, “Um – sounds like all is not well in Lake Wobegon.”

Dad sighed. “It’s – I think we’ve run out of things to talk about.”

Pete said, “You don’t have much in common.”

“No. As time has gone on that’s become more clear. As a matter of fact…” He cleared his throat. “Do you guys want a dog?”

We looked at each other again, this time in alarm. I said, “Uh – what?”

“As of two days ago I have a foster dog, and I need to find a home for him. Jeff says he could probably find someone, but this is a very special dog. I’d rather keep him in the family. Kevin’s limited to 50 pounds.”

Pete said slowly, “The dog is over 50 pounds.”

I asked, “How far over 50 pounds?”

“He weighs 87.”

I said, “Holy crap. What is he?”

“He’s a Lab. A yellow Lab.”

Pete and I had talked about having a dog. At the time, I’d said that I didn’t want to have a Lab in our 960-square-foot townhouse. So, of course, the first dog that came along would be a Lab.

Pete said, “Can’t Jeff and Val take him? He’d be a buddy for Ralphie.”

“No. He needs to be an only dog.”

I asked, “Why is he special? And how did you end up with him?”

Iraqi Freedom

By soldiersmediacenter (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“He’s a Marine. Staff Sergeant Ammo. He was a bomb-detection dog at the base – he never saw combat. His handler decided he wanted out of the bomb business, so they tried to train Ammo to work with someone else – and failed. He wouldn’t obey the commands for anyone new. They tried three different handlers. So they decided to retire him, and his previous handler couldn’t take him because his kid’s developed allergies. The Pendleton vet didn’t want to turn him over to the company that adopts out the retired dogs, so he called Jeff, and Jeff called me.”

Pete said, “So he won’t obey commands?”

“He obeys regular commands just fine. Sit, stay, come, shake, roll over, the whole pet dog repertoire. He just won’t work.”

I said, “I guess he wanted out of the bomb business too.”

Pete asked, “You have him now?”

“Yeah. He’s right here.” Dad’s voice sounded farther away; he must have moved the phone from his ear. “Ammo, speak.”

We heard a deep, sharp bark. A big dog’s bark. Dad said, “Good boy.”

I said, “How old is he?”

“Three. You’ll have many years of companionship. Jeff looked him over already and he’s in excellent health.”

I said, “And what does this have to do with Barb?”

Dad sighed. “That’s why I can’t keep him myself. Barb doesn’t like dogs.”


“Exactly. I did not know this. I said, ‘What about all the time we’ve spent at Jeff and Val’s with their dogs?’ She said, ‘For short periods they’re fine, but I wouldn’t want one in the house.’”

Pete said, “Weeeelll… If you’re looking for a reason to end it with her, this could be it.”

“No. I’m not breaking up with a woman over a dog that I just got. That’s not fair.”

Pete and I looked at each other. I knew we were thinking the same thing. Pete said, “So you think your relationship is dwindling away, and I get the sense you’d like to keep Ammo – why prolong the inevitable?”

Dad sighed. “It’s complicated.”

I said, “Isn’t it always?”

“I suppose. The thing is, I’m pretty sure that Barb doesn’t think we’re dwindling away. She seems happy as ever, other than continuing to throw hints that she’d like to move in here.”

I nearly yelped. “She still wants to move in?

“She keeps mentioning how convenient it would be. I’ve told her several times why that’s not going to happen, and she seems to think I’ll wear down if she repeats it enough.”

Pete laughed. “She doesn’t know you very well.”

“No, I don’t think she does. Anyway. I’m going to have to be the one to break up, when the time comes. I can’t just spring it on her suddenly. I’ve got to build my case. Ammo is the cornerstone of my case.”

I said, “Suppose we do take him – we’ll be bringing him to visit. Is that going to bother her?”

“Possibly. If so, tough.”

Pete asked, “Why does he need to be an only dog? Does he not get along with other dogs?”

“It’s not that. The Pendleton vet said that he’s used to being an only dog. These guys are trained to work with people. They’re not as well socialized to other dogs.”

I looked at Pete; he shrugged. I said, “We have to talk about this.”

“Sure. You’ll be here Saturday, right? You can meet him, then think about it while you’re in Arizona. When you come back through, if you’ve decided to take him, he can go home with you.”

I said, “Okay. See you Saturday.”

We hung up and I flopped back against the sofa cushions. “An 87-pound Lab.”

Pete grinned. “And you said you weren’t having a Lab in this house.”

I shot a look at him. “You’re the one who will be home with him more. What do you think?”

“I think that a military-trained Lab is very different from a Lab like Ralphie that’s been raised with kids and other dogs. Ammo will do what we tell him. He’s not going to chew the furniture.”

“You hope. He’ll need lots of exercise.”

Pete picked up my phone and did a quick search. “There’s an off-leash dog park by the airport. We can take him over there to play fetch.”

“Labs shed a lot.”

“We’ll vacuum more often.”

We, kemo sabe?”

Pete laughed. “Cleaning relaxes you. You’ll be so relaxed…”

“We have to consider travel. We’re gone one weekend a month, and next summer we’re all going to DC for two weeks. Who will he stay with?”

“For the weekends, we could see if Kevin and Kristen would stay at Kristen’s house and keep him. For the two weeks next summer, Ali and Mel might be willing to dog-sit. Mel could probably take him to work with her.”

I said, “You’ve already decided.”

“No, I’m just pointing out that your objections can be overcome.” He patted my knee. “Think about it. We’d get an exquisitely well-trained young adult purebred dog, free. That should appeal to your sense of frugality.”

I had to laugh. “It does.”

He slapped my knee again and stood up. “We have two weeks before we’d bring him home. Plenty of time to mull it over.”

I said, “Barb doesn’t like dogs or baseball. And her favorite hobby is shopping.”

“Sounds like a doomed relationship to me.” Pete went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. “They started seeing each other because of Colin and Gabe.”

Dad and Barb met in the summer of 2013, when Dad was taking Gabe to the public library summer reading program. Barb began helping Colin with his school work shortly thereafter. “Yeah. And this is Colin’s last semester of homeschooling. Colin won’t need Barb once he starts high school in the fall.”

“No.” Pete was getting dishes out of the cabinet. “Dinner’s ready.”


Thursday, December 17

The next morning at work I told Liz about Ammo. She said, “He sounds great. If there was a weekend when Kevin and Kristen couldn’t keep him, Jon and I could stay at your place with him. Jon loves dogs.”

I said, “You guys should have one.”

“Nah. We’re limited to twenty pounds, and I can’t stand toy dogs. Jon’s mother has Pomeranians. Nasty, yappy little bastards. So, are you going to keep him?”

“We’re still deciding.”

Liz nodded knowingly. “You’re keeping him.” Her phone rang, and I recognized the ringtone. “Back in the Saddle Again.” Jon.

She answered, “Hey, cowboy. Nah, just talking to Jamie. What’s up?” Her face grew serious. “Oh. Um – you can’t really say no, can you? Yeah, I know.” Big sigh. “Okay, sure. See ya.” She hung up and said, “Well, fuck.”


“Jon’s got a must-attend Christmas party tomorrow night. I hate Christmas party season. I spend my entire evening watching him to make sure he’s not drinking too much.”

Oh. I didn’t realize that was still a problem.”

“He drinks when the job is stressful, or when he thinks the job is about to become stressful, which it often does around the holidays when people tend to kill each other. And he and Kevin are on duty all next week.”

“Ugh. Who’s giving the party, that he can’t miss it?”

“His first captain is a midlevel manager at headquarters now, and he’s invited us. It wouldn’t be a good career move to say no.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Jon’s thinking of making a career move?”

Liz shrugged. “Not now, but he knows Kevin won’t stay with the force forever, now that you guys have the inheritance. He’s trying to think ahead.”

“Does he want to stay on the job?”

“He’s open to alternatives, but he hasn’t come up with one that he likes yet.” Liz checked her watch. “Speaking of Christmas parties, the political science department is having a brunch get-together in fifteen minutes. I’d better scoot.”

I said, “Are you violating any of your Buddhist principles by attending these Christmas parties?”

She laughed. “No, you’re confusing us with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. See you at reference.”


There wasn’t much point in staffing the reference desk the day before the quarter ended, as we had no business at all. Plenty of time to chit-chat. Liz was regaling me with tales of the weirder members of the political science department when Clinton made his regular appearance at 1:30.

Liz said, “Hi, Clinton.”

“Dr. Brodie, Ms. Nguyen. This will be my last visit with you until the new year. I am departing this evening for my brother’s home in Nevada.”

I said, “Safe travels.”

“Thank you. The word of the day is kyon.” He bowed. “A blessed holiday season to you both.”

Liz said, “Thank you, Clinton.”

Clinton walked away. I looked up the word and began to laugh. “Kyon is the Old Greek word for dog.”

Liz poked me in the shoulder. “See? Clinton has approved. Ammo is yours.”

“Yeah, sure.” But I wasn’t sure. Not yet.


When I got home there was a bag from Unleashed sitting on the sofa. Pete was rattling around in the kitchen. I carried the bag upstairs and set it on the counter. “Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?”

“Nah. I didn’t get much. If we do bring him home, I want to be prepared.”

I dug into the bag and found a copy of Labrador Retrievers for Dummies, a large braided rope bone, and a box of healthy dog treats. I said, “I don’t think you’ll have to bribe him to like you.”

“Those aren’t bribes, they’re goodwill gestures. And I’ll read the book while we’re in Arizona. I know you grew up with big dogs, but I’ve never had a pet of any kind. I have to educate myself.”

“It sounds like you’ve decided already.”

“No, I haven’t. But I thought more about it today, and couldn’t think of a reason not to take him.” Pete handed me a filled plate.

I had to admit… “I haven’t thought of a reason, either.”


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