There’s something about a sweet-spirited, flirtatious, good-looking blonde. And for the one you’re about to meet, these descriptors barely begin to cover his traits and accomplishments. Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with him . . . everyone does, and for good reason.
He is a talented actor, but wholly unaffected by his fame. In fact he speaks to his fans daily — over 200,000 of them follow him on Facebook. He’s been featured in magazines, and has starred in music videos, on television and on stage. He is also famous for his fierce dedication to eradicating cancer in both humans and animals.
You might call him an over-Retriever, and go right ahead — he is Parker Pup, and his list of fantastic traits also includes easygoing. Call him what you like, just be sure to call him for dinner!
The blonde butterball joined the McFarling family six and half years ago, including two-legged parents, mom (Chris), dad (Dan) and daughter Jenn, and four-legged sister Goldens, Daisy (3), and Sophie (13).
Named for the former OSU stadium where Dan went to school, Parker’s people created a website to celebrate the life and puppy antics of their adorable new boy. Photos and videos flowed, showing the little tyke discovering toys, cats, children, the great outdoors, mugging for the camera in sweet and funny outfits, rough-housing with his sister, and executing his increasing repertoire of tricks. Stealing our hearts with each passing month, and eventually year, Parker Pup grew up right before our eyes.
The family loved the little guy and took him everywhere — work, church, festivals and gatherings. A quick study, he sailed through puppy preschool and began obedience, agility and other training, passing the Canine Good Citizenship test at just 11 months of age. Seemingly destined for great things, about Parker’s ultimate success, Jenn says, “It just happened . . . and we just went with it.”
Incredibly cute photos and videos continued coming, of Parker and his sister Daisy celebrating birthdays and holidays, showing off Parker’s skills and adventures. Just for fun, he was entered in a contest. He won, was increasingly featured on dog-related websites, and his image even appeared on the big screen in Times Square. Soon he was getting professional gigs in print ads, TV commercials and music videos.
One big break came as a fluke. A photo of Parker sent to StuffonMyMutt.com was picked up and printed by Vanity Fair alongside a column on — you guessed it — “Cuteness” in the December 2009 issue. The McFarlings had no idea until they received a call from a friend living in France. Jenn says she got the call one evening after celebrating her birthday with friends. “I was ready for bed, in my pajamas, and ended up racing to the store to find a copy.”
His mellow temperament led Parker to animal assisted therapy work, with Dan as a natural partner. Working for the State of Oregon in the early ‘80s, Dan’s responsibilities included overseeing the rules governing health care facilities. A firm believer in the power of pet therapy, one of his earliest acts was implementing rules to allow pets in nursing homes. “Those same standards, which allow resident pets and pet therapy, are in effect today,” he is proud to point out.
Parker spreads love and hope while visiting schools, libraries and hospitals. A regular visitor at Doernbecher Children's Hospital and Oregon Health Sciences University, he not only soothes fearful patients and families affected by cancer, but also alleviates stress of staff members. When providing animal assisted therapy, or AAT, Parker provides more than a healing touch and warm cuddles. As a performer with many tricks, he is able to break through fear, generate smiles where there were none, and laughter where it is vital. While patients and staff thrive in his presence, Parker gets his due as well — he loves his work.
“It’s easy to tell that Parker enjoys the visits,” says Dan. “As he approaches one of his regular haunts, his enthusiasm is clear. His ears perk up, his tail wags enthusiastically, and his pace quickens. His posture tells me he is one happy fella approaching his therapy work!” (Click here for more on Dan's experiences with Parker's therapy work).
In his work to eradicate cancer and heighten awareness, Parker participates in cancer walks on the West Coast as an advocate for the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF), a four-star charity dedicated to funding studies to advance veterinary medicine. In existence for more than 60 years, the foundation is currently leading a global campaign to cure canine cancer in 10-20 years, while providing more effective treatments in the meantime. Parker fundraises throughout the year for MAF, as well as the American Cancer Society, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He raised over $10,000 last year for organizations working to find a cure.
Parker’s connection to cancer started before he was born. In 2006, Dan was diagnosed with an aggressive strain. He is now cancer-free, but when faced with something like that, “You do a lot of bargaining,” Jenn says. “I promised I would someday give back and do whatever I could to help.”
Last year, cancer struck the family again, taking the McFarling’s beloved Daisy at just 9 years old, fueling Parker to gather over 2,100 names for a vest he wore at a cancer walk in the fall, bearing names of people and animals who were fighting or had lost their battle with the deadly disease.
Parker’s love and therapy also shows up in many unexpected places. In October, the MAF celebrated its 65th anniversary with a Gala of Hope that included honoring longtime supporter and advocate Betty White. Parker Pup was on the guest list. Jenn says, “It was quite an honor as he was the only invited dog.” Laughing, she adds, “He actually received a real invitation!”
Jenn says meeting Betty White was pretty great, saying it’s easy to tell she has a huge heart for dogs. “When Parker walked into the room, the whole world stopped for Betty. She stopped mid-conversation and got the biggest smile on her face.”
Recently, Parker played Sandy in a production of Annie in Forest Grove. His role of endearing mutt expanded as he provided comfort to the cast, crew and parents of two little girls killed in a hit and run. One had been cast as an orphan in the show.
Another recent happening: Parker has been nominated in the Therapy Dog category of the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards. It’s perfectly fitting — a hero in his family’s eyes and in the lives he touches — the awards celebrate the powerful relationship between people and dogs, recognizing exceptional canines doing extraordinary things. Online voting narrows the field to three semi-finalists in eight categories, who are judged by a celebrity panel. A unique black-tie affair televised on the Hallmark Channel celebrates the heroes on both ends of the leash. (Go Parker!)
So, what does this remarkable, busy boy do in his off-time? “He is totally obsessed with balls,” says Jenn. “If no one will throw one for him, he’ll make up his own games and entertain himself for hours batting at a ball or sleeping with one in his mouth.”
These days, new 6-month-old little brother Reser (named for OSU stadium’s name today) also keeps him occupied.
Hoping Reser might follow in his big brother’s paw-steps, Reser’s first step was enrolling in MAF’s Canine Lifetime Health Study. One in two dogs of all breeds will get cancer; and one in four will die from it. For Golden Retrievers, the risk is higher, with 60% dying from the disease. MAF’s groundbreaking study is following 3,000 Goldens over their lifetimes to gain insights into preventing cancer, helping determine risk factors for canine diseases, and improving the health of future generations.
Other than that, the family says with Reser they’re flying by the seat of their pants. “He’s his own dog and pretty spunky, whereas Parker was mellow,” Jenn says. “He’ll have a job, we’re just not sure what that is yet.”
If Parker is any inspiration, then wonderful things will happen.
To read more about the Morris Animal Foundation, visit MorrisAnimalFoundation.org.
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on. Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.