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PERSONALITIES

Watching Will Buchan and his dog Parker working a bird was like observing an intricate dance. The duo had done it so many times before. But now, after so many hunts, Buchan knew it was time...

Saying goodbye to Parker


ill Buchan knew it was time. His beloved 13-year-old Brittany spaniel, Parker, was lying in her dog bed, listless, barely breathing. Deaf, blind, and wracked by diabetes, shed defied the odds and thanks to years of nursing and nurturing by her ownerhad lived longer than anyone thought possible. But Will knew the end was near. Parker wouldnt eat and could barely lift her head. He called up his friend Gregg Goodson, the local veterinarian who had hunted for grouse and woodcock with Will and Parker numerous times, and said, Its time, Gregg. Im bringing in Parker. Will gingerly bundled Parker into his four-wheel drive. He stroked her brownand-white head and remembered Parker in her prime, walking at his side as they hunted in Stowes Sterling Valley or lush woods in northern New Hampshire. STORY / Robert Kiener It was always a privilege to watch her work, he thought. Hed marvel as he PHOTOGRAPHS / Glenn Callahan watched her catch scent of a game bird and haltingly tiptoe deeper into the woods until, suddenly, shed lock up on point, and wait for Will to flush the bird from its cover. Then, after he dispatched the bird with his 1903 Parker double-barreled 20-gauge shotgun (hence her name), the dog would race to retrieve it and drop it at his feet. Often Will would deliberately miss a bird, shooting above or behind it. For him the hunt was not about the number of birds he shothed often return home empty-handedbut more about the joy of watching Parker work. There was something elegant about the way Will and Parker worked together. This was a dog born to hunt and a master who had trained her to perform impeccably in the field. Watching the two of them working a bird was like observing an intricate dance. Will would blow one short blast on his whistle and Parker would instantly run to her left; two blasts, and she would move to the right. A long blast and shed instantly return to Wills side. The British aristocracy, who preferred setters, had looked down their noses at Brittany spaniels and dubbed them poachers dogs. But Brittany owners know better. Indeed, a Brittany took top prize at the Westminster Dog Show a few years ago. This was no surprise to Will. Once, when a passerby took Wills attention away from the hunt for some 20 minutes, Parker stayed locked on point. She was unflappable. It also helped that, as Gregg Goodson often said, Parker had more lives than a cat. There was the time she jumped into Wills open Suburban on a 100-plus degree summer day and somehow the door slammed shut. Two hours later Will
Will Buchan and his dog Parker in the woods near his home in Stowe.
Stowe Guide & Magazine, Summer & Fall 2010

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From top: Parker anticipates the hunt. Buchans 1903 Parker double-barreled 20-gauge shotgun.

found her near death from heatstroke. Panicking, he grabbed her from the car and threw her into a nearby rain barrel. When that failed to revive her, he wrapped his mouth around hers and gave her mouth-tosnout resuscitation. Slowly, remarkably, she began to come around. But she was still desperately weak. He laid her in the car, turned up the air conditioning full blast and called Gregg Goodson. Ive got Parker in the car and she needs an I.V., Gregg, he shouted into his cell phone as he rushed into Stowe. Within minutes Goodson had her hooked up to an I.V. drip in his animal clinic and covered in ice packs. A day later she was home. Within a week she was back hunting with Will. A few years later Parker disappeared for 45 minutes during a hunt and returned licking her chops. That evening she refused to eat and became violently ill. Will figured she must have eaten a long-dead kill and been poisoned. Again he rushed her to Goodsons animal hospital where she teetered between life and death for nearly four days. Eventually, thanks to large doses of antibiotics and an I.V. drip, she came around. But she would never be the same.
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In less than a year she began collapsing as she walked. Goodson explained that Parkers pancreas was so destroyed she had developed diabetes. For the rest of her life Will would have to give her insulin shots twice a day and keep her on a restricted diet. In time her vision went and she lost her hearing, due to the diabetes. One day a friend asked, Have you thought about putting her to sleep? Will was amazed; as long as Parker seemed happy, he could never consider ending her life. He told the friend, Ive never put a dog of mine down. Never even considered it. They were a pair. Wherever Will went, he took Parker. When he spent a month living on his old lobster boat off Nantucket, Parker went with him. Will devised a special harness for her so he could lift her in and out of the boat and keep her from falling overboard. Best of all, he still took her hunting. But the dance had changed. Because Parker was now totally blind, Will brought her to open fields where he knew birds often roosted in adjacent wooded areas. Hed tie a 20foot lead to Parker and position her downwind of the woods, so her still-powerful nose could catch scent of a bird. Instead of using a whistle to guide Parker, he clapped his hands. She was deaf but could feel the vibrations. Hed allow her to walk through the open field, guiding her so she wouldnt bump into trees or other obstructions until she would pick up a scent. Then hed release her and shed boldly follow her nose into the woods, perhaps crashing into a few trees or running into a bush, before she located a bird and locked up, pointing. Although deaf and blind, shed hold ramrod straight, waiting for her master to flush the bird, raise his doublebarreled shotgun to the skies and shoot. Will loved seeing her like this. For a moment, she looked like the Parker of old, the skilled hunter who had mastered the chase. She was a study in concentration, sniffing the air hungrily and wagging her tail. It was as if the years and the diseases that had crippled her had melted away. She had always been more alive and alert in the field than anywhere else; this was her real home. Recently when someone asked Will why he still took Parker hunting he said, I love the dog and she loves to do this. Its what she was born to do. Many days Will returned home without a bird but he didnt care; the hunt was now more for Parkers benefit than his. He knew her days were numbered.


This January, as a deep snow covered the fields that Parker and her master had walked over so often, Will Buchan carried his 13year-old friend into Gregg Goodsons animal clinic for the last time. Its time to say goodbye, Gregg, he said. Its time to say goodbye to Parker. I