A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Walking Softly

The most popular resident of Oakland's Uptown district is Ballari the dog.
Ballari (Sanskrit for "walking softly") is a Siberian husky who lives with his owner, Sarah Kidder; her roommate, Uriah Duffy; and a black-and-white cat named Enkidu.
Everyone in the neighborhood looks forward to a visit when Sarah takes him on his daily rounds, including the firefighters at Fire Station No. 15; Jori, Justin and Mike at Inkwell Tattoo; Pete Ajemian, owner of Soja Martial Arts; Jeff Lee, co-owner of Oakland Mitsubishi; and the toddlers at Broadway Early Head Start, who jump up and down, wave and call, "Hi, Bell-Bell!" because "Ballari" is still too hard for them to say.
"He's the mascot of 24th Street," says neighbor Oscar Ayala. "Everyone loves him."
"He's turned this neighborhood into a really warm place," says Sophia Chang, owner of Kitchener, a commercial kitchen for food startups. "We’ve all become much better friends because of him."
One of Ballari's favorite stops is Oakland Mazda, where service advisor Helen Bermudez always has a stash of doggie treats waiting for him.
"He stops first at my colleague Jack Barbieri's desk to get his daily scratches," she says. "Then he marches over to the drawer where I keep my stash and leans his nose against it to tell me it's snack time."
But his favorite stop of all is the trendy restaurant/bar Mua, where he's the center of attention on Friday and Saturday nights,
"He's the biggest chick magnet in town," says bartender Dave Buckner.  "He brings joy to my co-workers, and the customers absolutely adore him. My security guard likes to pretend Ballari is his pet, he loves him so much."
All this is especially gratifying because Ballari was a very different dog when Sarah rescued him a year and a half ago.
He had spent the first six years of his life tied by a rope to a stake in somebody's backyard, completely neglected 24/7.
When Sarah first got him he wouldn't look you in the eye, didn't know how to play, and got confused whenever anyone tried to pet him.
Today, he's a sweet, gentle bundle of love, especially with little kids.
Sarah and Uriah had a lot to do with it, but so did the neighbors, who have watched him come out of his shell and blossom into the charmer he is today.
You've heard people say it takes a village to raise a child? It took a whole neighborhood to heal this dog.
And Ballari has returned the favor. When Sarah moved into the neighborhood three years ago, a cop warned her it was "borderline sketchy."
Not anymore it isn't, because everybody knows each other and watches out for each other. Uptown is like a small town in the middle of Oakland. And Ballari deserves some of the credit.
If this were fiction I'd stop here. But this is real life, and I regret to report that the owner of Sarah's apartment building has decided to move in himself, which means they'll have to find another place to live.
But that doesn't mean Ballari will lose his support system, or that they'll lose him.
"Hey, I still have a car," Sarah says. "We might not be able to get over here every day, but we'll definitely be here every week."