Parker, an English setter and the mother of Boss, Colt, Cogswell, Hugo and Purdey, was lying in her bed from home. The edges hung over the stainless-steel table at the vet’s office. An insidious brain cancer had, in a few days, left her a shell, sightless and unable to stand.
Christine and I held her, desperate to choke back the sobbing. I pressed my wet face against her soft cheek and whispered, “Tell me your story sweetheart.”
And she did:
“When I was just a puppy, they came and put me in a cage and put me in a big machine that made a lot of noise and made my tummy feel bad when it started moving. It was dark and cold inside, and I didn’t have my brothers and sisters to keep me warm. It was scary, and after a while, I went to sleep.
“When I woke up you and mom were there, but I didn’t know who you were. I could tell you were happy to see me by the way you hugged me and scratched my ears. You called me Parker, and I wasn’t scared anymore.
“You and mom took me to another machine and I didn’t have to stay in the cage anymore. Mom wanted me to sit in her lap, but I was too excited and it was fun looking out the windows at all the new things.
“After a while we stopped and mom gave me a dish of something that tasted good and filled my belly, and then I went to sleep in her lap. When I woke up, dogs were barking and I thought I was home, except three of the dogs inside a fence didn’t look like me. They were big and brown and noisy. The black and white one that you called Winchester didn’t like me.
“When we went into the house, all the dogs came in and you and mom stayed close while they all sniffed at me, and after a while, they all went outside, except the one you called Jack. He played with me and showed me around. He showed me how to dig up rocks in the yard and chew a yellow ball to shreds.
“After that every day was fun. You and mom would take me to what you called the range and I would sit in the truck and look out the window while you and mom made little noises with long sticks. You would stop and come to see me and give me little treats. I would get tired and go to sleep.
“We would go to another range and there were lots of people with sticks that made noise and mom would take her stick and make noise with them while you and I sat at a picnic table and watched. I would get tired and fall asleep by your feet.
“Most days you and mom would leave, and Jack would run around the big yard and play with me. There were lots of things outside the fence that looked exciting, and the fence was easy to climb. Sometimes I would climb over and go exploring. I could never get the other dogs to go with me, not even Jack. Then one day you came home early and caught me climbing back in. I was sad when you put some big wood all around the top of the fence, and I couldn’t climb it anymore.
“One morning when I was still little, the air outside smelled different and it was cold. You and mom left with Winchester and were gone for a long time. When you came back Winchester smelled wonderful, all of us dogs wanted to sniff him all over, and he growled at us. After that it seemed like you were always gone with Winchester until the snow had come and gone.
“I was almost as big as Winchester when the air started to smell funny again and I watched you put the long sticks that made noise in the truck. When mom called for me, I jumped in the backseat with Winchester, and he growled at me and you made him stop.
“We stopped at a big place where we could see far and there were big hills and rocks and cliffs. Off we went, Winchester and me, running up and down the big hills, farther and farther away from you and mom. The air was filled with new smells. We climbed higher and higher, and you would call us back sometimes.
“When Winchester smelled those birds, we would stop and wait for you and mom to come and make them fly. Sometimes I couldn’t wait, and I would make them fly myself and you and mom were not happy.
“We went to the big places a lot, and there was always something whistling at us. One day, I saw the little brown creature that was making the noise, and I almost caught it. It was so fun that afterward I didn’t care about those birds much anymore.
“Sometimes you and mom would take me to the woods close to home, and I would smell another kind of bird. When I stopped, you would walk by with your noise stick and make the big bird fly, and it would fall out of the air. When I ran to find it, you and mom would come and hug me and tell me I was a good girl. I loved those times.
“When the puppies came, I was scared, and you and mom were there. You weren’t scared and I felt safe when you were there.
“The other day when I started feeling bad, you and mom took me to the place that smells like lots of dogs. The man made my skin pinch a little, but you and mom held me and I wasn’t scared. That night you lay down beside me, and held me and I wasn’t scared.
“In the morning when I had to go outside and all of a sudden everything was black, and I couldn’t make my legs work, I was scared. And then I heard you running and felt your arms around me, and I wasn’t scared anymore.
“When we went back to the place that smells like dogs, I couldn’t see the people that made my skin pinch, and I heard you and mom talking to them, and something changed. On the way home lying in mom’s lap, I could feel her fear. And when you and mom held me last night, you were scared.
“Now we are back at the dog-smell place and you and mom are holding me, and I feel your faces next to mine and I know you are scared and now I am scared too.
“I need to sleep now, and I need you and mom not to be scared so I’ll know when I go to sleep that everything will be OK and when I wake up we’ll all be happy, like we have always been. Good night momma, good night papa.”
Rest in peace, Roosevelt Parker (May 20, 2011-October 17, 2018).
Steve Meyer is a longtime Alaskan who lives in Kenai and is an avid hunter.