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For the latest edition of Giving Back with Zack — my 12-year-old son’s series of interviews with professional athletes about their favorite charities — he sat down with two of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ finest: standout linebacker Lavonte David and the team’s newly acquired punter, Bradley Pinion. 

While I knew about Lavonte from his eight years with the Bucs and his Lavonte David Foundation, I wasn’t as familiar with Bradley, who joined the team this year  from the San Francisco 49ers and was only drafted in 2015 from Clemson. But now I’m a big fan. In fact, our conversation with him would change my life, and Zack’s, too.

Lavonte David at the mic.

Just before the interview with Lavonte, we learned that he’d been nominated for the 2019 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, which recognizes players who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship. As Zack spoke with him, I could see how humble and grateful he is for his accomplishments and the work he has been able to do off the field. Not only does he have his own charity to help college-bound students achieve their goals, he is also the national ambassador for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and is hosting his fourth annual charity bowling event to support that organization.  

Zack presents Lavonte David with a “Giving Back with Zack” t-shirt.

Recruiting mentors and positive adult role models for kids is a huge passion for him.  He is definitely a positive adult role model himself, and I appreciated him sitting down and sharing his goals for the season, as well as his feelings about the Art Rooney nomination.

Bradley Pinion has been doing charitable work for several years. In 2017, the 49ers nominated him for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work with hurricane relief. Now he’s launched a new program called Punts for Pups. Bradley and his wife, Kaeleigh, have three dogs of their own and have decided that, for every punt Bradley makes within the 20-yard line during a Sunday game, they will sponsor a dog on Monday at the Hillsborough County shelter and pay the adoption fees.

Bradley Pinion at the mic.

When Zack learned about the program, he immediately shared that we were thinking about adopting a dog. Bradley’s face lit up, and he started sharing information about two dogs they’d sponsored at the shelter that were ready to be adopted. He showed us pictures from his Instagram account, including a video of a dog named Buck who played with him at the shelter.

I had been yearning for a dog after losing my last boxer over five years ago. I’d had boxers for 15 years, and they were like my children. My first was a brindle female named Jasmine, and a few years later we added a white male named Aspen. I didn’t know if I could relate to any breeds other than boxers. Buck is a 2-year-old American Staffordshire terrier mix, and Zack was smitten. I had been getting closer to adopting a dog over the last couple of months and had even stopped at the Humane Society one afternoon to see their dogs, but none had tugged at my heartstrings.

Pinion accepts his souvenir shirt.

Bradley said that Buck was at the Hillsborough County shelter, and not only had he paid the adoption fees, but he had partnered with Modern Paws to also provide a goodie bag for each dog that he sponsors. I wrote down the address and told him I’d take a look. At the end of the interview Bradley said that if I was serious about adopting a dog, he and Kaeligh were planning on sponsoring 10 more, totaling the 12 punts he had made so far this season. If I didn’t want to adopt Buck, there would be other dogs that would be part of the Punts for Pups program.

That night Zack pushed me to go to the shelter to see Buck before he was gone, and because of Bradley’s encouragement I did just that the next day. Adopting a dog is a huge commitment. I need to connect with a dog before I adopt, and that didn’t happen with Buck. But while I was at the shelter, I figured I would walk around.

The Hillsborough Pet Resource Center, located off of Falkenburg Road in Tampa, is a big facility with many, many dogs. I walked up and down the aisles without making a connection until I saw a tan dog with a black face, sitting near the front of his cage, staring up at me. When I crouched down to say hello, his soulful eyes stared back at me and I could see that he was shaking. He was definitely a boxer. I reached up to read his information and discovered that his name was Dexter, and that he was 10 years old.

A senior dog? I hadn’t planned on adopting a senior. Maybe a 5-year-old, but not a dog near the end of his life. Both my boxers had passed away at 11 years old, so if we were lucky we could have him for another year.  But he totally grabbed my heart.

This was not a decision I could make on my own. Zack had to understand what we were getting into if we decided to adopt Dexter, so I didn’t ask to visit with the dog outside of his cage. I would bring Zack back to do that if he was interested. Sure enough, Zack wanted to see Dexter, so we drove back down that evening.

When they brought him in to meet us in the play area, he walked right up to me, as if he remembered me from earlier in the day. Then he went straight to Zack, who talked with him, petted him and took his leash to walk him around the area. Zack asked me if we could adopt Dexter and take him home that night.  Little did we know that the interview with Bradley Pinion would lead us to the newest member of our family — Dexter.

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