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, May 29, 2014

For A Good Dog

You could almost see the grief rippling through Oakland's Uptown district, like a wave on the ocean, as word spread that Ballari the Siberian husky was dead.
"Oh no!" cried the salesmen at Audi Mazda of Oakland.
"Damn!" said tattoo artist Jori Douglas, owner of Inkwell Studio.
It was a common reaction – overwhelming sadness mixed with anger at fate for not allowing him more time with his owner, Sarah Kidder.
He was Sarah's dog, but he also belonged to the entire community.
"Everybody knew him and everybody loved him," says Douglas. "For those of us who don't have pets at home, he was the community pet. He would roll over, play all the dog games – just a great dog."
Ballari's first nine years were sheer hell. He was tied to a stake in somebody's backyard and ignored 24/7. Recent X-rays strongly suggest he was badly beaten, too.
 When Sarah adopted him two years and eight months ago he was sweet, but damaged. He wouldn't look you in the eye, didn't know how to play, and got confused when anybody tied to pet him.
So she set out to change all that. He felt unloved? She and her housemate, Uriah Duffy, showered him with affection.
He didn't know how to relate to people? She took him for daily walks around the neighborhood, where he quickly made new friends, including the children at Broadway Head Start, who would stick their little hands through the chain link fence on their playground to pet him; Pete Ajemian, owner of Soja Martial Arts; Sophia Chang, owner of Kitchener; Jeff Lee, owner of Oakland Mitsubishi; and all the firefighters at Fire Station No. 15.
And they watched and cheered as he gradually came out of his shell.
"I remember the first time he licked my hand," says Oakland Fire Captain Howard Holt. "It was such a breakthrough!"
He kept improving until the day he died. This formerly depressed dog now smiled all the time with a smile that lit up the whole room.
Perhaps his favorite place was Mua, the trendy restaurant on Webster Street, where he would hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.
"He was the biggest chick magnet in town," says bartender Dave Buckner. "He brought joy to my co-workers, and the customers absolutely adored him. This is a sad day for the restaurant and the whole neighborhood."
Or maybe it was Oakland Audi Mazda, where office clerk Helen Bermudez kept doggy treats in her desk drawer for him.
"He'd stop first at my colleague Jack Barbieri's desk to get his daily scratches, then he'd march over to my drawer and lean his nose against it to tell me it's snack time," she says. "He got me through some very tough times, and I miss him terribly already."
In those two years and eight months Ballari learned to play, cuddle, chase squirrels, get along with his cat brother Enkidu, run for Pet Mayor of Piedmont, frolic at the beach, hang out with rock stars and politicians, serve as unofficial mascot of Oakland First Fridays, and win the hearts of an entire community. He very much had his own friends, whom he loved dearly.
He passed away peacefully on May 5. Sarah and Uriah were with him when he died.
Go to sleep now, Ballari. Good dog.

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