Local doctor finds a friend in an unexpected way, and place
In 1999, local doctor Michelle Parsons was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, serving as the flight surgeon for an F-15 squadron.
“Wherever the flying unit went, I would go ahead and set up a clinic wherever we were, to care for the service members,” explained Parsons. “So I could be practicing medicine out of a tent, a hotel room or a foreign national air force base.”
Parsons joined the Air Force at the age of 22, as a way to go to medical school, and during her time in Okinawa found an unexpected friend who would become a good pal and companion.
“I had gone out for a bike ride and came across this little dog who was in the middle of the road — a little white fluffy puppy,” she recalled. “I leaned down to pet him, looked around to see which home he might belong to. On the side of the road, there was a cardboard box that still had duct tape on it. I looked at him, and he actually still had duct tape stuck on his legs. Someone had duct-taped him inside a cardboard box and left him on the side of the road. I went to pet him and he leaned up against my leg, and I just melted when he did that. It was just so sweet and gentle.”
Parsons rode home, got her car and returned to where she had found the abandoned pup. Luckily, he was still there, and she was able to take him home, where he got a shower and food. She then went to the adoption service on base, to try to find him a home.
“Because I was in the military and was deployed a lot, I didn’t think I would be able to care for him. The military base does have a pet adoption service, but they said he would need his shots first. He wasn’t able to receive shots until two weeks after he was found, because they were booked.
“Well, two weeks go by, I get him his shots and by that point I’m in love with him and there’s no way I’m giving him up for adoption,” she said. “For the next two years while I was stationed in Okinawa, he stayed with me. I did have other servicepersons care for him when I went on deployment.”
Parsons said that she named the Okinawa-mix pup Tulip, and he became her instant companion for the next two years in Japan.
“Being on the other side of the world, to be able to have a constant family member with me was very comforting to me,” she said.
Of his cutsie name, Parsons said it came from his delicate gait when going for walks in the rain.
“He didn’t like to get his paws wet when it was raining outside. He would always take these little steps. Even though he was a boy dog, he acted like a Tulip. And at the time I didn’t think I’d keep him… and the name stuck.”
Parsons said that her love for Tulip even helped her learn Japanese while trying to get home to see him during a Category 5 typhoon.
“I was on another island, and I was struggling to get back to Okinawa. I took Japanese for a year and had no idea how to speak Japanese. But under the pressure of trying to get back home to see Tulip, I learned how to speak Japanese in about five seconds,” recalled Parsons. “All of a sudden, I was arranging taxi rides, renting cars, getting a ferry ride, to get transportation back to him in Okinawa. I guess my love for him made me learn Japanese in five seconds.”
During her time in Okinawa, Parsons was deployed to Thailand, Alaska, Kuwait and Hawaii for two to four weeks at a time. Tulip would stay with other service members until her return.
“When it was time for me to leave the service to go back to the States, I had a hard time flying him back from Japan. There wasn’t room on the military jet any longer. I elected to pay my way as a civilian to fly home with him. The military would ship him home, but they couldn’t guarantee if he would arrive alive,” she said, adding that they flew from Okinawa to Alaska to Minnesota to Philadelphia on a nearly 24-hour trip home. “He made it through with flying colors.”
Parsons is now practicing medicine locally, and 14-year old Tulip is still by her side.
“Since that time, I’ve gotten married and have a 5-year-old son. He has been a devoted dog to my son, Benjamin, has slept in his crib, is very protective of him. He would come get me anytime my son would wake up,” she said.
Tulip would also travel with her to make house calls as a therapy dog. “It helps them heal. They would just hold him or pet him, feeling that love. He would just help them feel better.”
But in May of this year, Tulip was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and only given two weeks to live.
“He’s still here, happy and playful, and doing great,” said Parsons, noting that Tulip had surgery and is seen once a month by a vet.
Although Tulip is doing well, considering his diagnosis, Parsons said that she has been preparing for his passing.
“I’m just trying to prepare emotionally. I have so many friends who know him and love him — just keeping my faith in God and praying every day for him that he continues to live a happy, healthy, natural life. And I pray the cancer doesn’t overtake him before his time.”
When Tulip does pass, Parsons said she hopes to give him the opportunity to return to Japan, where they first met.
“I thought, for his funeral service, since I found him at the beach in Japan, I can have his funeral service at the beach and maybe one day he can find his way back to Japan.”
Of his life so far, Parsons said Tulip has and continues to be touched by so many people and is a true friend and family member.
“He’s a devoted family dog. He has been my constant companion,” she said. “Tulip has been loved by so many people. He just really makes a good impression on everyone he meets.”