Parker Vavra has always been an animal lover.
“He’s obsessed with animals,” said mom Bobbie Jo Vavra. “He’s been saying he wants to be a doggie doctor when he grows up. And he’s stuck with it. He’s always been that way.”
In addition to three boys, the family has a dog, two fish and a guinea pig in their village of North Syracuse home, plus they feed a stray cat.
“We can’t have any more,” Bobbie Jo said. “We’ll get kicked out of our house.”
But Parker, whom his mother said is “very sensitive to others’ feelings, people or animal,” is always looking for ways to help his pet cause.
Recently, Parker’s school had the children complete a theme called “Helping Hands, Healthy Hearts,” in which students learned that volunteering had the power to make people healthier. Students were asked to donate their time to a worthy organization as part of the program. Naturally, Parker wanted to work with a local shelter.
“Unfortunately, all of the ones I looked at, you had to be 10 to 14,” Bobbie Jo said. “Naturally, he was disappointed.”
But not for long. Parker thought about his approaching birthday and decided he didn’t want traditional presents like video games or toys; instead, he asked his family to donate any money they would spend to the CNY SPCA or the Humane Association of Central New York.
“He said, ‘They’ll be happier, and that will make them healthier, so they’ll live longer,’” his mother recalled. “It just skyrocketed from there.”
Parker was so thrilled with the process that he decided to do the same for his birthday party on Dec. 1. On his invitations, he wrote a message, asking guests who wished to participate to provide donations to area shelters in lieu of gifts.
That’s where the trouble began.
Bobbie Jo was in Price Chopper one day not long after the invitations went out when she overheard a woman talking to her friend.
“They didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t introduce myself, but the woman’s daughter was one of the girls Parker had invited,” she said. “She was going on about how rude she thought he was for doing this. Then her daughter came up to him at school and said, ‘My mom said I can’t come to your party because you’re rude. You’re not supposed to tell people what to give you for your birthday.’”
Only three of the invited guests showed to Parker’s party. The boy was hurt and upset, unable to understand why his desire to help a population in need could be considered rude.
“That was what really upset him,” Bobbie Jo said, “being called rude. He couldn’t understand that.”
She said she told her son that not everyone has his passion. She’s deliberately avoiding name-calling and putting down the other parent because she doesn’t want Parker to react that way.
“I’m trying to teach him about forgiveness, kindness, caring,” she said. “To put her down makes us no better than she is. And there are more people out there that will support him than will not.”
Indeed, a Facebook page Bobbie Jo started to support her son’s endeavors (Facebook.com/ParkersBirthdayWish) has garnered nearly 200 “likes” and nationwide attention. He’s received donations from as far away as Australia, all for local animal shelters. Over the weekend, Parker visited Helping Hounds in DeWitt, the Humane Association of Central New York in Liverpool and the CNY SPCA in Mattydale to drop off the donations.
Parker is so inspired by the activity that he’s decided he wants to continue doing it.
“He wants to do this every year for the rest of his life,” Bobbie Jo said. “He wanted to do it for Christmas, too. We had to convince him that he should get some presents. But if he wants to do it for his birthday every year, that’s okay with us.”
Bobbie Jo refused to take credit for her son’s disposition, saying it was all Parker.
“He’s just my hero,” she said. “He would give every toy he owns, he would lose both arms and both legs to know no animal would have to be euthanized ever again. He’s said that when he’s a vet, he’s never going to let people put their pets to sleep unless they’re sick and there’s no choice. He’s a very selfless child. He has a huge, huge heart. I’m very proud of him.
“Now if we could just get him to clean his room.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.