People around me know my devotion to my dog, Parker. And by devotion, they would mean being a responsible pet owner by spoiling Parker rotten and everything in between. All of it is true. And while I made some mistakes – I never should have allowed Parker to assume that he’s entitled to sample everything we eat – I must point out that I had not wanted a dog much to begin with and that Parker was my first (mammalian) pet. Therefore, it was a fairly steep learning curve for me to figure out how to handle him once he arrived in our home.
I did read books on dog care ahead of time, of course. Amusingly, this is exactly how I had tried to prepare for the birth of my first child under similar ignorant circumstances: zero exposure to infants once I was past age 10, and absolutely no babysitting experience at any age. No surprise that the research I did in both instances yielded similar results. Books never hurt, but nothing really prepares you for the hands-on, maddeningly unpredictable reality of a living, breathing, sentient and idiosyncratic creature entering your world.
I have spent the past 15 years trying to understand life from Parker’s point of view so that I could better manage his behavior, his physical well-being, his emotional life and his relationship with other people and animals. That’s a long way of saying that I spent a lot of time focused on health and balance in a dog’s life.
I wasn’t productive on all fronts: Parker was the least happy-go-lucky Labrador Retriever I’ve ever met, and he hated cats with a passion. To his credit, however, he was just smart enough to recognize that he needed humans for survival, so he was obedient and submissive. He understood that his sworn feline enemies were quicker, smarter and more deadly than he. He knew better than to actually mess with one.
But at the end of the day, literally and figuratively, Parker was a deeply comforting presence in my life. I don’t have the space here to disentangle and describe his particular threads in the fabric of these past 15 years, but he’s woven solidly in there. However, I will say that he brought out the best in me – communication through the heart rather than through vocal chords, observation from a truly different set of eyes and, above all, laughter and joy while experiencing all the small, inconsequential things.
When he died last month, Parker’s vet, who assisted him, told me with sincerity that Parker was a patient he would remember the rest of his life. In part because given his fragile health, Parker lived well past anyone’s expectations. But I’d like to think that it was also because of Parker’s personal charm – a weird mix of suspicious, tentative optimism and naive incredulity. He never operated on pure faith, but he was always surprised when things didn’t quite work out to his particular liking. I loved that about him. It made him seem so human.