The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The aging Parker

This will be a more personal post than usual, so bear with me.

The Daily Parker has existed in one form or another since May 1998—incidentally making it one of the oldest websites on the planet—and Parker has existed in one form or another since June 2006—incidentally making him one of the oldest dogs on the planet. He's not small, either: he weighs almost 30 kilos, and before he tore his CCL 2½ years ago he could comfortably put his paws on my shoulders and lick my face while I was standing. The shelter I got him from told me he's half German shepherd and half...something. (My vet at the time assured me he was 100% dog.)

I've always thought the "something" included some beagle, which would explain his longevity. Or maybe he's just had a really great life. For whatever reason, after 14 years, 4 months, and 10 days, he still eats like a dog and still recognizes hand signals, even if he can't actually obey all of them anymore because it hurts too much to sit and lie down. He still knows his name, he still learns new things (like how me putting on a mask means he might get to go outside), and he still says hello to all the dogs in the neighborhood who recognize how old he is and don't try to jump on him. He even says hi to the boxer puppy who tries to jump on him, come to think of it.

The thing is, big dogs don't usually live this long, especially German shepherd mixes. Because the thing is, Parker is essentially 100 years old. I hope I still have as many of my faculties at 100 that Parker has at 14½, because if so, I'll probably make it to 110. But I'm human; I can communicate precisely how much pain I'm in, and I can choose or reject treatment for whatever doesn't kill me before then.

Because the thing is, despite his cognitive abilities and how much I love him, he's not doing well. About two years ago he started showing signs of deterioration in his hindquarters. It was subtle at first: sometimes he tripped running up stairs, but shook it off and kept going. (This is how he tore his CCL, in fact.) Three years ago, we did our morning around-the-block walk in 8 minutes. A year ago, it took 11 minutes. Today it took 14. On bad mornings it takes 16. And some mornings, we turn back at the corner, because he just can't do it.

He hasn't wagged his tail in over a year, because he no longer has control over his tail. While he still has some control over his bladder, he has almost none over his anus. His nocturnal pooping has gotten so regular that I wake up several times during the night because I don't know if he's pooped while sleeping. He also has leg tremors in his sleep, so even if he's not trying to clean up the mess he made (which is why I immediately leap out of bed in those circumstances), he makes a lot of noise. He also has significant hearing loss, which lets him sleep like Rip Van Winkle no matter what I'm doing, but which also means he doesn't know I'm home until I start patting him.

You don't really notice some things until one day you realize they're gone. Parker no longer greets me at the door, because he can't hear me. He no longer wags his tail when I get home, because he can't control his tail muscles. He doesn't bark when someone buzzes my doorbell, because even if he hears the bell, he can't really bark anymore either. At least he can make really happy groaning noises when I rub his belly just right. Unfortunately, he can't roll onto his back to give me full belly access anymore, so we just make do.

Then, in the last two months, he has started losing control over his back legs to the point where he almost can't walk when he's fatigued. I took video on Thursday when he started "crabbing" because his right and left hind legs didn't coordinate properly. That was only 8 minutes into a walk, in the middle of the day. Sometimes later in the evening he doesn't even try to get up because he knows his legs won't be there for him. Other times he walks like nothing has changed since he was 10. But going down stairs has started to terrify him, no matter how strong he feels.

And yet he's still Parker. He's the same sweet dog he's been for 14 years. He still passes the same cognitive tests I gave him when I got him, though not as quickly. He's still aware of his world. He's still aware of me. He knows when I've dropped something edible on the floor from two rooms away. He knows how close I'll let him get to my dinner plate. He knows he's my dog.

So, I'm planning to talk to a hospice vet this week, after Parker has a routine semi-annual geriatric wellness exam on Thursday. His regular vet already has the video I linked above. So by the end of the week, I expect to have a plan for the thing I've always known would come but that I never wanted.

Ernest Hemingway wrote that people go bankrupt in two ways: "Gradually, then suddenly." That's also how dogs get older. Parker has entered the "suddenly" part. And the only good thing about this happening in 2020 is that the pandemic is letting me be home with him for every one of his last days. I just don't know how many last days we have.

Long but productive Wednesday

I cracked the code on an application rewrite I last attempted in 2010, so I've spent a lot of my copious free time the past week working on it. I hope to have more to say soon, but software takes time. And when I'm in the zone, I like to stay there. All of which is why it's 9:30 and I have just gotten around to reading all this:

I'm now going to turn off all my screens, walk Parker, and go to bed. (Though I just got the good news that my 8:30 am demo got moved to a later time.)

Gotcha Day #14

Fourteen years ago today, Parker came home with me:

Here's the old guy waiting to get jabbed at today's vet visit:

Of course, if he keeps pooping in the house—ten minutes after our morning walk he got the bathroom, bedroom, and hallway in three separate deposits—I might kick him out.

Happy birthday, Bill

Today is former president Bill Clinton's 74th birthday. Last night, he spoke at the Democratic National Convention, where the party formally nominated former vice president Joe Biden to be president.

In other news:

And finally, in about half an hour, Parker will get a much-needed bath. He has no idea this will happen. I'll let him sleep another 10 minutes before the horror begins...

Must be summer

It is hot in Chicago: 34°C that feels like 38°C because of the 22°C dewpoint. Last night the temperature didn't even go below 77°C. I helped a friend move a couple of things into storage this morning and I'm now soaked through. Parker hates it especially because he has two fur coats. (He deposited a significant amount of one of them around the house this week, though.)

I plan to spend the rest of the day inside with my air conditioning.

You know where else it's way too hot? East Antarctica. And that could cause problems for everyone on earth.

Parker update

As an old dog just a week past his 14th birthday, Parker has his ups and downs. Today was a bit of a down.

A little before 3 am he pooped on the floor, which is annoying but not the worst thing he regularly does, but then he couldn't stand up. He woke me up when he belly-flopped into the pile. He seemed very sad about this, but he did get a walk more or less immediately plus some very gentle pats on the head after I cleaned up.

He's not in pain, and he's a dog so dignity in these matters isn't quite what it would be for a human. But he has been declining noticeably since last fall.

I hope he stays healthy through the summer so we can celebrate his Gotcha Day in September. Beyond that...I just don't know.

Happy birthday, Parker!

My bête noir turned 14 (fourteen!) today. I could not decide which photo of him to use so here are three:

For comparison, here's what he looked like on his Gotcha Day almost 14 years ago:

Calm winds, altitude test

We had calm winds in my neighborhood this morning, so after walking Parker I grabbed my Mini and did an altitude test. I discovered that I had to replace 3 damaged propeller blades (more on that later), but after fixing the aircraft, I popped it up to 90 m and had a look around:

In the climb to that altitude I discovered that the tallest building in the area is only 70 m tall, and trees tend to be around 25 m tall. These are very useful data points when flying a tiny UAV that doesn't have obstacle-avoidance features.

Update: Here's the raw footage from the test:

Mini Me

I mentioned yesterday I got a new toy. Finally, after years of thinking about it (and also watching prices come down), I bought a small drone. The Mavic Mini weighs 249 grams (which has legal significance), flies for half an hour, and takes decent video.

For my first test flights, I put the propeller guards on and did some slow flying around my house. Parker could not have cared less. Encounter number one:

Encounter number two:

So I not only have the best dog on the planet, but I may also have the chillest dog on the planet.