Parker never told me his exact birthdate. The shelter said the six Pomona Puppies—Parker, Polly, Pepper, Petey, Penny, and Poppy—were 11 weeks old when I met them on 1 September 2006, so I just counted back to June 16th. The shelter also said Parker’s dad was a 40-kilo German shepherd dog and his mom was a 7-kilo beagle/rat terrier mix. My vet said a DNA test “would likely say he’s a dog,” so I never got him one. When people asked what kind of dog he was, I would say "black."
Parker's Petfinder mugshot, taken at 8 weeks
At the adoption event, while all his siblings climbed over each other and barked like they had just invented lungs, Parker sat in the middle of the pen, ears alert, checking out the room. He looked at me, I looked at him, and I was his human from then on.
When Parker and I adopted each other, George W. Bush was in his 6th year in office; Facebook was still four weeks away from public access; Fergie’s “London Bridge” was the #1 song; and we still had no idea how Lost would end. Parker weighed just under 8 kilos. He then grew half a kilo a week for six months and ate more than any creature his size has a right to.
Parker explores the back yard the day after I adopted him, 2 September 2006
He spent the first few months destroying my couch and chewing on just about everything else he could get his needle-sharp teeth around. He spent the first year getting into trouble that never seemed to stick, because just look at him. He traveled with me, he hiked with me, he came to work with me, and he gave me plenty of opportunities to spray Nature’s Miracle on some patch of floor he'd christened.
Parker takes a nap on his 3rd day with me, 3 September 2006
And the walks. Oh, the walks. He stuck with me for a 9-kilometer hike around Devil’s Lake, Wis., when he was just a year old. Nine years later he led the way for most of a 16-kilometer walk across Chicago. In between, he walked to the grocery with me almost every week (2½ km each way), waiting patiently outside like the good great dog he was. I regret never getting him a FitBark. He probably got more steps than I did most of the time.
Parker surveys Devil's Lake, Wis., 22 June 2007
He and I spent about 5,000 of his 5,192 days together. The longest we ever spent apart was in 2009 when I went to London for 3½ weeks. He also spent more time in North Carolina than I did, thanks to a new job that required a lot of travel, but I came back most weekends. The friend he stayed with loved having him around so much that she got a dog of her own shortly after Parker returned to Chicago.
But Parker got old, as the luckiest dogs do.
A couple of months before his 12th birthday, he tore his CCL, the ligament that holds a quadruped’s knee together. He recovered quickly, but not completely, so our walks got a bit shorter, a bit slower.
Parker after TPLO surgery, 4 April 2018
With apologies to Ernest Hemingway, dogs die two ways: gradually, then suddenly. I can look back on the summer of 2018 and notice, in retrospect, that he lost something after the injury. A walk around the block around his 11th birthday took 13 minutes; on his 12th, it took 14 minutes; by his 13th, 15 minutes. This morning it took 16, and it’s a smaller block than before we moved.
There are so many “lasts” I don’t remember. I think he last barked in July. I think he last napped on the dining room rug in the spring. I think he last rolled onto his back for a belly rub over a year ago. I think he last played with a toy a year before that.
But I know he last went to day camp on March 2nd. He last stayed there overnight on January 18th. He last had a bath on August 19th. He last went to the vet on October 29th. He last rode in a car on the 31st.
He took his last walk at 3:40pm.
He fell asleep for the last time at 5:34pm.
Over the summer, he started telling me he was done. I didn’t hear him—couldn’t, perhaps—until a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve stayed home every day, never gone for more than an hour or two. Parker slept almost the whole time, sometimes so soundly that he didn’t hear me coming over to him. He got extra walks when they didn’t hurt too much, extra treats when we returned to the house, and extra pats just because. And many of the humans he met over the years came by to see him, socially distant from me but all pats and kisses for him. I think he had a good final month.
For his whole life, Parker knew that whenever I went somewhere, I would always come back. And I always knew he would be there when I did.
Goodbye, old friend.
Parker's last walk, earlier today