When we named our Border Collie, we thought we were naming him after a future star. Lee Roy Parnell was an up-and-coming country singer and guitarist who had the push of Arista Records behind him and the respect of his fellow musicians. We loved his sound. Lee Roy the Border Collie was named in his honour.
Lee Roy the dog had a great life, although it wasn’t without some challenges. When he was a pup, we lived in a tall house that had a rickety fire escape out back. One day, while returning to the upstairs entrance with Lee Roy, he ran up those metal stairs so fast that when he hit the limit of his leash he jerked back, and fell between the posts in the railing and dangled for a couple of seconds before my brain told me, “let go”. He was wearing what we now call a choke chain because he was in training. With a quick snap, and no pain, he was reminded to walk properly. Then the collar loosened again. But here, suspended in mid-air, it was a noose. So, in one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life, I let go.
He fell into a brambly bush on the ground and got the wind knocked out of him. Panicking, I rushed him to our vet. He came to on the way and seemed to be okay. She confirmed that I did the right thing. He would have died if I had tried to reach him any other way.
A year or so later, he jumped into the back of my friend Lana’s truck with her Black Lab Chase, and let out a yelp. His hind end was useless. He couldn’t stand or move his back legs. Within a couple of hours his legs regained some strength but he was never the same after that. He saw a neurologist, a behavioral therapist, a specialist and our vet. We were told to take him to Guelph University to allow someone to perform surgery or put him on high doses of medication. We crated him, which he didn’t enjoy, and carried our 65 lb. lad in and out of the house so he could pee. My then-husband built a ramp for the front steps and someone stole it. All of the options for him seemed risky. And then someone said, what about a chiropractor?
We found a veterinarian/animal chiropractor in Burlington and visited her several times a week for the first while. On the very first visit, he shuffled in looking down-trodden and pained, and pranced out like a show pony. For the rest of his life, even after we moved to Toronto, we took him to Dr. Linda at least once a month. She kept him moving, off drugs and out of pain. He never walked properly again – he always had an exaggerated wiggle – but he walked, and without invasive surgery or a boatload of drugs. It was Dr. Linda who cried almost as hard as we did after she put him out of his misery many years later, when he developed cancer.
Lee Roy’s namesake never did become a big star. I was scheduled to interview him in Nashville during Fan Fair one year, for Country Wave Magazine. After watching his show from backstage and marvelling at his guitar skills, I showed up at the appointed trailer at the appointed time, in the 110F heat. “Lee Roy can’t talk to you”, said some scruffy character blocking the door. “But I have an appointment”, I pleaded. “Sorry hun. He’s not comin’ out”, and the door slammed and locked.
I was pissed off.
I slammed on the door again and Mr. Scruffy’s face appeared. “What?” “The least he can do is sign this for me. I named my fucking dog after him!”, I said, on the verge of full-on tears. So Lee Roy (I assume) signed a photo of his beautiful little namesake, and I never did get to meet him.
A colleague recently went to a show in Detroit featuring Lee Roy Parnell and two other guitarist/vocalists. After Lee Roy’s set, my buddy noticed him at the bar, knocking back liquor. Soon enough, he was weaving his way through the crowd, completely drunk, slurring and making a fool of himself. People were embarrassed to see him so sloppy, so fast. Perhaps that’s why he would rather spend time with his buddies than keep an appointment with a journalist for a national publication. Perhaps that’s why he never became the star, despite having all the talent. And perhaps that’s why I always have to explain why I named my dog Lee Roy.