“He’s just an old dog.” Parker lit up, at least as much as a 17-year old pit-lab mix can. Larry, the neighborhood poet, and resident feral cat-feeder, was on his way to the back-alley to spread his cat food, and Parker stayed glued to the bag at Larry’s side.
“We are all old dogs,” I replied. Larry harrumphed, and as is his routine with me, recited a stanza from one of his poems:
We foment the future, we torment the past
One came too fast, while one didn’t last
How we are trapped in this time called today
Tell me, how much attention do we ever pay?
Another Larry special.
Parker and I trudged on. Me gently pulling to keep him on track. Many years ago, I called him to me from a far corner (it was a point of pride that I never walked him on a leash—even in the middle of Washington, DC) and squatted down with my arms extended to pet him as he ran by. My sprained wrist took four weeks to heal.
I used to let him out of the car at the edge of the gravel drive at our place in West Virginia. He would bound in front of the car, and take off like a rocket down the lane. A few unsuspecting groundhogs met their demise when he would encircle one, throw it in the air by its scruff, and then prance around the lifeless creature. He just wanted to play.
When we walked the streets of the city, if I saw a squirrel or stray cat sneak between a car, I would murmur, “Get that squirrel.” When Parker got close, I would let out a two-tone whistle, and Parker would stop on a dime, and give me a baleful look. Today, he is deaf as a door-knocker, or at least he pretends to be.
Most mornings, I trudge down stairs with new, still balky knees, turn on the radio, make the coffee, check the paper. Then, I head back upstairs with a leash in hand. I nuzzle Parker in his nest by the bed before I attach the leash. “C’mon buddy. Let’s go for a walk.” His body does a double-pump before he gets upright. We snuggle, and he makes his approach to the stairs. Then begins a five-minute process of faith and hope and memory before he makes it to the bottom.
All of the neighborhood dogs (and their people) spend time when they see Parker today. When he was young, we would walk in Rock Creek Park in an area where all the dogs were off leash. One big German shepard terrorized the others. One day, he stood in Parker’s face barking snout-to-snout. Parker just stood. Then, there was a loud yelp and the shepherd cowered under a log. His owner tried to comfort him, and his hand came out full of blood. Parker had bitten off his ear. It cost us $119 to sew that ear back on.
For the first half of his life, he stayed pegged to my leg like static. When we went to work, he broke through metal dog crates in multiple ways. He broke through a window and jumped from the second story roof in West Virginia. Twice. The Houdini of dogs.
A few years ago, I said to Betsy, “He seems to follow you more than me now.”
She laughed, and said, “Hello, that has been happening for years.” He tracks her like sonar, staying by her leg—barking incessantly for dinner an hour after he was fed.
I sat with him on the couch last night looking at the Christmas tree and listening to a few of the songs we grew up with: Willin by Little Feat; Without Love by Southside Johnny; Bonnie Raitt and the Angel From Montgomery. My knees are healing, and I will be able to play ball again with my sons. Parker enjoys the sun and sniffs of the street, seeing the neighbors, sidling up to Betsy, and getting extra food.
What more could you ask for?