October 18, 1977 was a big day in history. During the World Series game that day, Reggie Jackson became only the second player in history to hit three home runs in one game. It was also the day a little Labrador mixed puppy wandered into our yard in Phoenix, AZ. Even though we already owned two dogs, we welcomed this little guy into our family once no one claimed him. It seemed only fitting to name him after “Mr. October”-Reggie Jackson.
Shortly after Reggie joined our family, we moved to Vail, AZ, a small town just to the southeast of Tucson. It was there that Reggie met Annie. Annie was the mixed breed that lived in the house directly behind our new home. Fences could not keep these young lovers apart. After a conjugal visit to Annie’s yard, several little puppies were born. Our family felt it only right to bring one home to live with us. So, Leroy joined our family too.
After returning from summer vacation one year, Reggie began to get sick. After a little investigation, my dad discovered the kennel that had boarded Reggie while we were out of town had neglected to give our young dog his updated Distemper vaccination. Reggie’s health quickly deteriorated. His chances of survival were slim. Many veterinarians thought that any treatment expecting recovery rather than just supportive care would have been pointless. But our veterinarian and my dad were both determined to try to save Reggie. Treatment consisted of mega doses of vitamin B12 and constant physical therapy. My dad worked with Reggie in our swimming pool every day to improve his strength and mobility.
To our amazement, Reggie did respond to the treatment! After months of hard work, Reggie made an almost full-recovery. The only lasting negative effect seemed to be a slight neurological problem. His reaction time was slower. For instance, if we were driving up the driveway, he had a hard time figuring out that he needed to move. He would sometimes just stand there, unsure what he should do, until finally making the decision to move to the side of the road once we gave the car horn a little honk.
Reggie did his job well. He was the ideal man’s best friend to my dad for years. The two dogs we owned in Phoenix eventually passed away leaving us with just Reggie and his son Leroy. One day my mom came home from town and instead of two happy faces looking in the sliding glass door leading from the backyard there were three- Reggie, Leroy and the newest addition to our family, Lincoln. Lincoln was a Great Dane. Instead of the cropped tail and ears that most Great Danes have, Lincoln’s were left long. He was dopey, in a cute sort of way. My dad rescued Lincoln from a man who “had no use for a dumb dog who was constantly getting loose and wandering off”. The man was going to solve the problem by taking Lincoln out back and shooting him.
My dad’s solution, and my mom quickly agreed after hearing how he acquired him, was for Lincoln to join our family. Everyone loved him. Reggie’s love for Lincoln was more of a love-hate relationship. He loved to hate Lincoln and quite often he would vocalize his lack of love by barking like a drill sergeant into Lincoln’s face. Lincoln seemed oblivious.
We eventually moved to the X-9 Ranch in Vail, AZ. My dad found 40 acres of property at the base of the Rincon Mountians. It was a dog running paradise. We learned never to let Leroy and Lincoln out of the house together. If we did, the pair of roaming buddies would inevitably run off together to explore the desert. They would come home only when they were hungry and tired and would sometimes smell like skunk or javelina.
We never had to worry about Reggie going with the two adventurers. He always stayed close to home. But one December morning, when we discovered Leroy and Lincoln had mistakenly been let outside together, Reggie was nowhere to be found. My dad immediately started looking for him. Leroy and Lincoln eventually came home that evening, but Reggie was not with them. We knew that since his bout with Distemper, years earlier, Reggie did not have the best sense of direction.
Our family searched for Reggie for weeks, driving down all the dirt roads, hiking the desert in all directions and searching the mountains behind our house. Nothing. We slowly started to accept that Reggie might never come home.
Six months later our family moved again. This time we moved about 80 miles from Tucson to Sierra Vista, AZ. We made several trips moving our belongings to our new home. As we drove down our driveway in Vail for the very last time, my dad said something that stuck with me… “I can’t help but think that we might see Reggie, that he will come out of the bushes and make it home before we leave.”
After the move, my dad’s job still took him up to Tucson nearly every day of the week. Once or twice a week he would stop at the TTT (The Triple T Truck Stop) to get diesel for the diesel car he was driving. One winter day as he stood filling his tank, he caught a glimpse of a black dog behind the truck stop over near the bushes.
The dog looked just like Reggie! My dad called out to him but the dog quickly ran away. He started asking the people who worked at the TTT if they had seen this dog before. All of the people who worked there were familiar with him. He had been coming around for months, usually at night.
My dad came home and shared his story with us. We were skeptical. Black Labs look a lot alike. How did he survive? It had been over a year since Reggie had gone missing. The truck stop was at least 30 miles from where we used to live. Reggie would have had to cross roads and come in contact with cars. Not just cars, but what about wild animals like coyotes? But my dad was certain and we were convinced too once he shared with us that the dog he saw had a bent tail that looked like it had been broken. Reggie’s tail had accidentally gotten caught in our car door when he was younger and had been crooked ever since.
My dad attempted to catch Reggie over the next few days, but Reggie was definitely in survival mode and would not come to anyone. Finally, my dad called Reggie’s old veterinarian and asked if he could get some tranquilizers so that he could put them in some food and be able to catch him. Our veterinarian had thrown away all of the records on his patient,Reggie, but was more than willing to help my dad out.
That night my dad, along with my grandpa and two older brothers went down to the TTT on a Reggie Stakeout. They baited some food with tranquilizers and waited. Reggie showed up and ate the food. Unfortunately, the drug did not work fast enough and Reggie darted away into the dark desert before anyone could catch him. My dad was so upset. What if Reggie ended up falling asleep and getting hit by one of the big semi trucks constantly driving through the area?
The next night my dad came up with a better plan, a coyote trap. The trap was designed to shut and lock the coyote in the cage as soon as it entered. My dad placed some food in the cage and they waited in the car. Reggie showed up. As planned, he entered the cage to get the food. The door closed behind him.
My dad came over to the scared dog and gently started saying his name over and over…Reggie, Reggie, Reggie. Almost instantly, Reggie remembered. He could finally stop running. He did not have to be afraid anymore. Reggie started whimpering and crying and wagging his tail. His best friend had found him!
Reggie was in amazingly good shape when my dad brought him home. The truckers had been throwing food to him and the diesel fuel that covered his fur had kept the ticks and other bugs from getting on him.
We gave him a bath and reunited him with his son Leroy and with the dog he loved to hate- Lincoln. Reggie greeted him in his normal drill Sergeant style.
Just like that, after one year, two months, and three days, Reggie came out of the bushes and made it home.