Valentine’s Day presents come in various shapes, sizes and fuzzy colors. Robert Moreland’s came with soulful eyes, a wet nose and a horrible scar.
Tears ran from the 71-year-old Air Force veteran’s eyes when he talked about the moment Blackjack walked into the room. His lips quivered as more tears threatened to burst. He had been reunited with his German shepherd 10 months after the animal was stolen from his truck.
“I had given up,” Moreland said. “Not because I wanted to, but because I know evil people are in this world, and they don’t care.”
The dog’s neck testified to his claim. Blackjack had worn the same green plastic collar for so long that it had to be cut off with a hacksaw. From his neck hung a chain to which a piece of meat was attached. Under them was a slice-like wound.
Blackjack, his rescuers fear, had been used in dog fighting — a tool to test the fighting instincts of other dogs, risking his life in the process.
“We’ll never know what they were using him for,” said Eric Weinberger, a volunteer at Big Dog Ranch Rescue. “But the only reason he would have that collar on him is if he was used as a bait dog.”
Dogs have long been special to Moreland, a Miramar resident who said he has owned them ever since he was a child and refers to Blackjack as his best friend. He said he loved his animals so much that his wife of 49 years once complained that he never cried when he had to leave her, but being away from his dog brought him to tears.
Moreland said he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since leaving the Air Force in 1981 after 20 years of service. He said that every time things got rough, or something bad happened, the effects of PTSD would overcome him and put a damper on all the other good things that were in his life. But Blackjack helped — until they were separated.
Moreland was at a Home Depot in Miramar in April and had left the dog he’s had since Blackjack was a pup on the front passenger seat. When he returned, the dog was gone. Moreland called police, but they could not help him find the animal, who had a chip with a contact number for its owner.
“It hurt me to my heart,” Moreland said, and his pain lingered. He said he cried and often wandered in hopes of finding the dog. He dealt with health complications, but amid those, he still kept searching for Blackjack.
Moreland finally had to give in and get another dog, Rommel, but that didn’t take away his sadness. Moreland said he would still mention Blackjack in his prayers.
Then Weinberger, a Palm Beach Gardens resident, got a call Feb. 7 from a woman who lives at the Century Village senior-housing community in Pembroke Pines. She said she’d been feeding a stray dog occasionally for about three months. Weinberger told her to detain the dog the next time it came by and he would come get it. The woman called Monday, but the dog had escaped. She called again Wednesday night, and this time, Weinberger picked up the animal.
It was Blackjack. Through the chip, Big Dog Ranch Rescue traced him to Moreland.
Learning what kind of shape the dog was in hurt Moreland. “They know better, but they’re selfish. They want everything for themselves,” Moreland said of the people who had Blackjack. “All they want is money, wealth and fame.”
But Moreland is grateful to the “good people” of Big Dog Ranch Rescue, who cleaned the animal up and contacted him Wednesday night and are housing Blackjack until he has surgery Friday. Weinberger said Moreland should be able to take Blackjack home by Sunday.
Thursday’s reunion made for a timely Valentine’s Day gift.
Moreland sat beside Blackjack in the room at the dog rescue. The animal immediately went to his side and curled up next to him. The two played. Their re-acquaintance was so quick it seemed like they had never been apart. Because, really, they hadn’t. Moreland’s heart was always with his best friend.
“I was so pleased (to find him),” Moreland said.