My first assignment as a new 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army was to supervise a supply room for the Headquarters Company of my unit at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Sergeant Lopez was the NCO who assisted me.
Sgt. Lopez was a small man, perhaps 5 feet and 2 inches tall. But he was a good worker and reliable in almost every way. I was grateful to have his assistance in a job I hated.
In his spare time he raised and trained dogs-German Shepherds. He had two of them and their offspring were a source of pleasure and income to him. I knew the sergeant on more than a professional level. He was my next-door neighbor in the on-post housing unit where we both lived. We were friends.
One day his female dog, who was in heat, escaped from the kennel he maintained, and when he located her, she was pregnant. When three puppies were born-a Shepherd/Labrador mix-he offered us one of them, a gangly, floppy, uncoordinated animal that looked mostly like a Golden Lab. We accepted his offer. We had small children and thought they might learn to love the dog. But we kept her for one night only and returned her. No dog ever made more noise in less time than this one during her first night away from home.
One of the challenges of having large dogs in a small kennel was that they had no space for exercise. So Sergeant Lopez walked his dogs regularly. North of our housing complex was a wooded area of several acres, and he wandered through the trees with his dogs on a tangle of trails and pathways. Usually he walked his dogs one at a time, but on occasion he would take them for a stroll together.
One morning I came into the supply room and found him there, battered almost beyond recognition. The left side of his face was a mass of scrapes and scabs, and there was a bandage on the top of his head. He glanced at me with a rueful grin.
“What happened to you?” I asked. Anyone would ask, of course, out of courtesy and curiosity.
He told his story. He had taken his dogs for a walk the evening before in the woods behind his house. Because both dogs were large and energetic, he had slipped his hands through the loops at the ends of their leashes, and then rotated his hands a half a turn in opposite directions to grasp the straps in front of the loops.
The walk was leisurely and unexciting for several minutes. Then a cottontail rabbit darted from beneath a bush and raced away. The dogs, responding to generations of instinct, leapt in pursuit. Of course, the sergeant had the leashes in his hands, but he had two of them, attached to dogs that were large and powerful and intent on only one thing: catching the rabbit.
Lopez had been enjoying the scenery, his mind wandering, when the dogs hit the ends of their leashes simultaneously and almost ripped his arms from their sockets. His lack of preparation, his small size, and his grips on the leads doomed him. The dogs pulled him from his feet and dragged him a short distance through the trees after the rabbit, until they separated enough to pass by a large birch on opposite sides of the trunk.
When Sergeant Lopez regained consciousness, the dogs were sitting near his outstretched hands, regarding him stoically. His head was throbbing and his face was next to the ragged bark of the birch, scraped and bleeding.
He finished his story and waited for me to conclude my mostly suppressed laughter.
“Are you sure you don’t want a dog?” he asked. “Maybe two of them?”
I was pretty sure.