The boy is fixed on taking his new puppy for a walk, even in the middle of a department store. Can he do it now, Dad? How about ... now?
“This is the best day of my life,” the 5-year-old says while holding the leash Sunday.
The 20-something remembers the black lab he had as a teenager, and is already planning hunts with the puppy he’s holding for the first time. He’s named the 12-week-old black lab Pat after General George S. Patton, best known as a World War II commander.
A 5-year-old, two veterans and two puppies given by surprise, all filmed for TV. There will be tears.
The Twin Cities National Guard soldiers, who are back this year from deployments to Iraq, were lured to Mankato’s Scheels department store with various fictions. The real goal of the event was to thrust the two adorable black lab puppies into their arms. The veterans, along with many others, had written letters to organizer Stacy Dvorak of Shakopee explaining why they wanted puppies and how they could provide a good home for them.
Sam, the 5-year-old, has already named his dog Pete, after a dog in the song “Sic ’em on a chicken” by the Zac Brown Band. Pete is a willful puppy, and stands his ground as Sam tries to take him for that walk.
“He has to learn real soon you’re the boss,” Sam’s dad, Lt. Col. Matt Vatter, tells him. Vatter was in on the surprise, but Sam and his wife, Cris, say they definitely were not as she wipes tears from her eyes.
“I felt bad, but Stacy swore me to secrecy on this one,” Matt Vatter said.
Spc. Dan Barber, 25, holds Pat, who seems about ready to fall asleep in his arms.
Both dogs appear to have hunting in their futures. Their grandpa was a national champion in a field competition, and both veterans have an interest in hunting.
Dvorak, a member of the Scott County Pheasants Forever chapter, said they were looking for families who planned to bring the dogs outdoors. The chapter has been working on ways to recognize veterans, both at an annual hunt and in the surprise dog give-a-ways.
These dogs were the sixth and seventh puppies given away by Pheasants Forever and were donated by St. James breeder J.J. Kruchek.
The surprise was held in Mankato because Scheels was enthusiastic to jump on board, Dvorak said. The store filmed the event and donated $70 gift cards to each veteran.
All told, including a year’s supply of dog food, the puppies and other accessories, the donations were worth $2,500.
The surprise was also filmed by the program Women of the Wild Outdoors, which Dvorak said is planned to run next year on the Pursuit and Versus cable channels.
The puppies, who come from a litter of nine, are put on the ground to rub noses a last time. Their 5-year-old father, Mac, ambles around, not appearing too attached to his offspring.
Vatter and Barber got puppies, but also something less tangible. Both seemed to re-commit that afternoon to an outdoors past-time that’s been lost among the details of their busy adult lives.
Barber picked up a decoy duck and thought about buying it to get started early on training Pat.
Vatter grew up in Wisconsin, but no longer knows the people whose land he used to hunt.
“Now it’s time to find new spots,” he said.