The event known as Greyhound Fest in the Southern California city of Solvang had special meaning for me this year. It was the last weekend I spent with my beloved Parker, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge at age 7 on the Wednesday after the weekend event. I had planned our weekend together because I spent the prior one in Arizona with Lexi and Zoe, my other Salukis. Unbeknownst to me, Parker had developed Hemangiosarcoma that spread quickly through his body. I have been devastated since, but discovering the impact Parker made on those he just met has helped ease some of the pain.
Parker came to me unexpectedly and departed the same way. Parker’s owner passed away in 2011, and he came back to live out his life with me. We bonded immediately as he was my constant travel companion to Las Vegas in the first months living with me. His gentle manner calmed me when I was stressed. In return I gave him the love he needed after losing his best human friend.
Parker traveled to Greyhound Fest as my token Greyhound, the Grizzle Saluki, participating in this annual event that takes hold of the city of Solvang, which is north of Santa Barbara. Solvang welcomes dogs with open arms. The merchants, hotels, wine bars, and tasting rooms as well as restaurants are filled with Greyhounds and greyt stuff during Greyhound Fest. The event brings people and their dogs from various parts of the country together to raise money for Greyt Legs, an organization providing financial assistance to rescue groups that help Greyhounds coming off the track with broken legs.
Here are some highlights of my final weekend with Parker.
1. The blessing of the hounds
The Rev. Gerald Barron, amazed at the number of Greyhounds present on the sunny day at the Mission Santa Inés, blessed every dog. The ritual had a more special meaning for me. Looking back, I can see it was a blessing to send Parker over the Rainbow Bridge to join his other Saluki friends: his mother, Keli, and his sister, Bella, who passed on before him.
Parker also got to meet a similar dog with his name — Parker the “fawn Greyhound.” The other Parker’s human father, Nick Hunseder, held my Parker while I took photos. Upon hearing of my Parker’s passing Nick said, “I know how devastated you must be right now. Losing one of our dogs is like losing family. I’m glad I had a chance to share some time with your Parker this past weekend.”
2. The pizza party and raffle
At a raffle associated with the Greyhound Fest pizza party, I met Kim Fraser, who has therapy dogs, a Saluki and a Greyhound. Kim volunteered to hold Parker for me during the raffle. Parker immediately curled up and snuggled with Kim, as if he knew she was a Saluki person. Kim was dismayed at the news of Parker’s passing. She said she felt Parker was a gentle soul, and his calm demeanor made him an ideal candidate for a therapy dog who could lift people’s spirits.
The big question of the evening was who was eating the pizza. I could see many a Greyhound enjoying a slice yet my Parker was ever so the gentleman not once begging for a piece.
3. A dog-friendly wine bar
I’m a wine enthusiast and a wine writer, so Parker and I visited the Wandering Dog Wine Bar. Seeing the many dogs spread out on the floor, one might wonder who had imbibed more — the Greyhounds or the humans. The friendly greeters are Bentley the Goldendoodle and Lucy the black Labrador, who bestow exuberant dog kisses upon those who enter. Parker was a little wary that day, and he stayed close to me.
Bar owner Susan Williams heard of Parker’s passing and wrote to me. “I was shocked and saddened to hear about Parker. No matter the age of our dogs, or whehter it’s expected or unexpected, it is so hard when they pass away. The inspiration for the Wandering Dog name, Mazzey, also passed away unexpectedly and quite suddenly from cancer. It’s heartbreaking to think how stoic these dogs are, never complaining or letting on that something is wrong. I’m glad Parker went on this last road trip with you.”
4. Parker’s fleece jacket
Vendors at Greyhound Fest sell sighthound collars, winter jackets, and jewelry, among other things. I am especially fond of the jackets, and Parker loved to cuddle up with his fleece jacket. All the proceeds from the sale of these garments goes to GreySave. When I see Parker’s orange jacket hanging in the closet, I miss him more thinking of him warmly clad in it during our last night in Solvang.
5. Parker in my art show
I had a trunk show of my sighthound artwork at a Solvang shop called the Artistic Pony, where Parker played an integral part. The shop, which carries my artwork, sells jewelry and other gifts — animal themed and otherwise. Owners Sue and Jeff Moualim take pride in making their shop a friendly place. They are dog and horse lovers, and they welcome all dogs with a special treat.
It was a natural for me to showcase my Greyhound artwork. Parker was by my side as I began drawing a Greyhound. Parker and I enjoyed meeting people and showing off my artwork. The stoic Parker became a part of my art display.
Sue and Jeff were shocked to hear of my loss. Jeff said, “Parker was a sweet and gentle guy and I felt very comfortable around him (I am little hesitant usually with big dogs, being in a wheel chair). I never worried at all.”
Sue was equally saddened: “What a truly sweet soul he was. Even though we only got to share a very small moment in his life, he became special to us. We had a nice chat while you were getting your camera from the hotel room, so I know I will always remember your boy.”
Sue said it best when she described how I believe we all feel at the loss of our pets: “This is the hardest part of having these guys in our life. I don’t know if it’s worse knowing we will outlive them, or fearing that they out live us.”
6. A dog-friendly hotel
Solvang is a pet-friendly town, but the Wine Valley Inn deserves special mention. A charming tribute to Denmark, it’s centered around a garden and includes a village tower. The cottages are reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and some feature their own yards, making them ideal for visitors with dogs.
General manager Sandy Hallmann welcomes guests with dogs at her hotel, a nice change for any pet owner who has experienced the negative aspects of finding places to stay with dogs. Parker and I stayed in a cottage loft that was comfortable and spacious. He usually slept in bed with me, but here he chose to sleep sprawled out on the day bed.
Sandy briefly met Parker, but it was her words that touched me the most because she picked up so clearly what Parker and my relationship was all about.
“When the light goes out on the spirit of our pets,” she said, “it leaves a very empty spot that can only be filled when we give that love away again. I love all dogs but solely through this event I have become totally infatuated and intrigued by Greyhounds. The look on their faces and expression in their eyes is captivating to say the least.
“Parker was no different. When I was talking to him and petting him in the lobby, he had that same look; it is like he had a secret all his own, and if I were lucky enough or patient enough I just might figure it out some day. Then with no hesitation he just walked over to sit by you and let the two young Greys that came take over the lobby and the center stage. It was obvious he was most content just being with you.”
Parker touched me in a way I cannot adequately describe, always being at my side or watching me. What’s most amazing to me is how he touched the lives of others who met him. I will always remember our special time together during Greyhound Fest.
Greyhounds bring us together for Greyhound Fest, but dogs in general bring us together and enrich all aspects of our lives. Parker did just that in the very short time I had him.
Peace be with you, my special Parker.