Parker was my dog. Actually, he was more than that. He was my “big guy,” my friend and, surprisingly, one of my teachers. Parker was a boxer, lab and pit bull mix. I rescued him in May 2013 from Orange County Animal Services minutes before he was scheduled for death. Unfortunately, Parker died on New Year’s Day. I was devastated and heartbroken by his passing. He amazed me from the start of our relationship.
Parker had been abused in his previous life, which upset me, especially given what a great dog he was. Somehow, though, after a rough start to life, Parker loved everything – his adopted canine sister Charlize, his adopted family, strangers, other dogs and (most amazingly) me – so uninhibitedly and naturally.
After hearing the news about Parker’s death, my mom said, “Parker was sent here for a purpose.” At first, I rejected this as motherly babble meant to assuage my despair. But then I remembered the night Parker saved my life. I was walking the dogs late one evening. A car pulled up and a man got out of it screaming. He demanded that I give him all of my money or he would cause me great harm. As he approached, he could only see Charlize and me. Then Parker came up from behind me and let out a ferocious growl. It was the only time I heard Parker growl at a human, and he meant business. The man stopped dead in his tracks, then turned around without saying another thing. He got in his car and drove away. Parker looked at me as if to say, “Problem solved.”
So maybe mom was right. Parker’s life, while short, had a purpose. In fact, I learned a lot from Parker, so now I want to share some of the things he taught me.
1 Don’t judge based on appearance. The first time I saw Parker, he looked sick. In fact, if not for the persistence of one dedicated person who was determined to get me adopt him, I would not have picked Parker. I would have picked a healthier dog. When I arrived at the shelter, I took Parker into an area to see if we got along while the staff watched. If I hadn’t taken him, they would have brought him to the room where dogs are euthanized – he would have died. There were a lot of other dogs that looked a lot healthier and happier up for adoption, but the way Parker rubbed his head against my leg in his moment of need let me know that he was my boy.
2 Love your family unconditionally. I feel like I was a good doggie dad to Parker, but I made mistakes with him. We all make mistakes. But Parker never held a grudge against me when I scolded him. If somebody you love scolds you unnecessarily, forgive them. Don’t hold a grudge. Time is short. Do you really want to spend it being mad at the people you love the most?
3 Move on from the past. When I did do wrong by Parker, as soon as I let him know things were OK, he would immediately jump on me and kiss me as if to say, “Let’s move on.” I knew he loved me. He knew I loved him. After having problems, we just moved forward.
4 Kiss the ones you love goodbye. The last thing I did with Parker before he went into surgery was to kiss him on the top of his head and tell him I loved him. He kissed me back and went into surgical prep. He made it through surgery on New Year’s Eve. I thought he would be home soon. I was wrong. I rest better knowing that Parker knew I loved him. You never know when you may see someone for the last time.
5 Find a partner. Parker had a happy life in part because he had a significant other in Charlize. They really acted like a married couple. They ate together, they slept together, they played together, they loved together and they loved me together. As a result, Parker’s life – while short – was very fulfilled.
6 Spend time with the ones you love. Parker was attached to me from the moment I walked into my home until the moment I left. He didn’t really care what I did, just that I included him. He sat on my feet when I worked on my computer. He slept on my lap when I watched TV. Whatever I did, Parker did. And he loved it because he loved me. Shouldn’t we all try to dedicate that kind of time to those we love the most?
7 Get your exercise. Over the past two years, I lost 71 pounds. I hired a trainer. I changed my eating habits. I learned to sleep. And Parker needed a lot of exercise, so I never had a day with him in which I didn’t walk at least three miles. Because of Parker, my health is the best it has ever been in my adult life. Walking is very good for you, but it can become a routine. And routines get boring. But by walking all of the time, Parker forced me to …
8 See the world around you. Everyone thinks that you have to travel extensively to see the world. That’s not necessarily true. Parker taught me to explore the world within three miles of my own home. There’s a lot going on just outside your front door. Explore it.
9 Never judge based on appearance only … again. Parker was a mixed-breed dog. People would tell me that he looked imposing. I would laugh to myself when people would go out of their way to avoid Parker, Charlize and me walking together. Why? Because both Parker and Charlize looked like pit bulls. Both dogs, though, were total lovers.
10 Discrimination is discrimination, and it’s wrong no matter what form it takes. I could not live in certain neighborhoods or complexes because of my dogs. People and organizations discriminated against Parker because they thought he looked like a dog that was trained to fight. There was a time in my life that I also believed that pit bulls should be eliminated, but if I had clung to that fear, I would never have had the experience of loving Parker. My time living with him made me think a lot about how people needlessly suffer from discrimination due to color, race, religion or sexual preference. Discrimination, no matter what form it takes, is wrong, and living with Parker (and Charlize) taught me more about that than I would ever be able to learn from reading or watching TV.
11 Saving an animal’s life is rewarding. Parker was minutes from death when he was adopted. From the moment Parker looked at me as if to thank me … well, I cannot explain the feeling in words. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
12 Too many animals like Parker die needlessly. Irresponsible breeding, poor ownership, breed discrimination … the list goes on for miles. I used to make fun of Bob Barker as a kid when he closed his TV show with “Please remember to spay and neuter your pets.” According to Orange County Animal Services, nearly half of the animals they take in are euthanized. Approximately 85 percent of the dogs euthanized there are pit bulls or pit bull mixes, and most are dead within two weeks of intake because the shelter is so full. The numbers of euthanized healthy animals nationally are staggering. Parker helped me understand the gravity of this problem.
13 Take a lot of pictures. My Dad used to quote the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” yet my family did not take an abundance of pictures. The ones we took were very nice and too few. Unfortunately, I have too few pictures of Parker and even fewer of Parker and me together.
14 Have no regrets. Parker lived for the moment, he loved unconditionally and he saw the world in a beautifully simple way. Parker made the most out of his short time with me. He taught me how to love unconditionally again. Seeing how happy this dog was to love others made me realize how truly powerful love can be and that I needed to love unconditionally again. As painful as Parker’s passing has been, I do not regret having spent my time with him.
15 God exists. Parker’s last lesson may be the most important lesson of all. I do not presume to understand God. Moreover, I feel no human can truly comprehend God. Admittedly, I have questioned God’s existence. But I believe that without God, there is no soul. I saw Parker’s soul in his eyes and in the love he gave to me and to others. Any being that beautiful has to have some sort of benevolent creator. Parker cemented my belief in God despite my own previous cynicism. I can only hope that my belief causes me to act more morally going forward.
Parker, wherever you are or wherever you have gone, please know that your spirit lives. Thank you for enriching my life.
Drew Paul is an Orlando resident, a business consultant and the CEO and co-owner of Nebula Integrated Systems, a software development and computer networking company. He loves animals, and he currently shares his life with his dog, Charlize, who was adopted from Orange County Animal Services.