Radar hands B.J. Hunnicutt his letters in the MAS*H episode “Mail Call, Again,” reading off who they’re from as he goes. The first three are from B.J.’s wife. The last one is from “Waggle Hunnicutt.”
“My dog,” B.J. says.
“Your dog?” Hawkeye repeats incredulously.
“My wife does the actual writing,” B.J. explains.
“Surely you jest,” Hawkeye declares.
But anyone who’s ever loved a dog knows what it’s like to miss man’s best friend, especially when you’re gone for such a long time. Videos of soldiers reuniting with dogs remain some of the internet’s sweetest, most heart-wrenching content.
“Dogs can’t write!” Radar giggles in the scene, and then Hawkeye goes on to quip about a Cocker Spaniel who “covered the dog show for The New York Times” and nearly won a Pulitzer.
But although the character he played was cavalier about the bond between man and dog, Alan Alda proved in one of his memoirs to be deeply fond of family dogs. In Things I Have Overheard While Talking to Myself, Alda describes Bosco, a mutt who belongs to his grandchildren that’s “a cross between a dog that looks like a frankfurter and one that looks like a hamburger.”
He says Bosco has one brown eye and one blue eye, and he’s been professionally trained, so he follows commands seriously. And then Alda sums up this dog’s nature by saying “he’s all affection.”
At one point, Alda notes that Bosco actually brings a lot of meaning into his life as a grandfather, acknowledging the important role the mutt was playing in his own small world, and echoing the sentiment B.J. captures so perfectly on MAS*H.
The family scene Alda describes is one that any family with a dog might find familiar. In it, the kids are playing wildly, and then one of them shouts out a command to the dog, “Place!”
Obediently, Bosco retreats to a corner he knows as his “place,” and the kids go back to playing. Alda writes, “How long he stays in his place depends on how long the children can go without giving him a second thought.”
“I watch and wait for them to notice his suffering and take him into their arms,” Alda goes on. “They don’t let him wait too long. They’re learning to feel for a fellow animal. And seeing them learn that… adds just a bit of feeling to my own life that it’s been worth living it.”
So when you’re watching Hawkeye tease B.J. about his wife taking the time to write a letter from the point of view of Waggle, just know that in his heart, Alan Alda actually believes this about man’s best friend:
“The soft belly of Bosco, my grandchildren’s dog; the dreamy look in his eye when you rub his belly. This is the meaning of life. Both for me and for him.”