Peggy Sturdivant
Dogs, such as Rex here, featured prominently in columnist Peggy Sturdivant's 2009. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM HER YEAR.

At Large in Ballard: Year of the Dog

Who can resist summing up at the end of the calendar year? I remove completed items from my “to do” list. I sit down with every issue of the Ballard News-Tribune from 2009 and put them in chronological order.

I realize “time didn’t fly,” it’s just my memory that cannot retain the mundane riches of everyday life.

As of Dec. 24, I have lived in my new home on my new block for an entire year. Needless to say, I’ve made new friends (and kept the old by visiting my old street almost daily).

If I’ve become any wiser, it hasn’t made itself apparent. My most profound thought so far of 2010 is that it was much, much easier to sort the Ballard News-Tribune when there was home delivery – the mailing label now completely obscures the date on the front page.

Although I was born in the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese calendar, I have decided that, for me, 2009 was the Year of the Dog.

In the absence of familiar faces from the old block, I became expert at placing dogs with their family members, learning a new way of telling time by the parade of old Labradors and stocky Bernese.

A neighbor from my old street walks by my new house with her two dogs every morning and calls out good morning at 5:30 a.m. (I think this is why I get confused in my dreams).

While attending an event in downtown Seattle, I met former Seattle Post-Intelligence editorial writer Joe Copeland and realized we were neighbors. I already recognized his dog.

Before he went to Japan on a Fulbright, Joe gave me valuable advice for a non-fiction book I am writing (that involves many dogs).

Through this column in 2009, I’ve met the woman who grew up in the Norvell House; Bertha Davis, who taught hundreds of children at Webster Elementary; former barber Victor Manarolla; Ballard artists Rosemary Sylvanus Antel and Susan Schneider; gardener (and cork collector) Vince Healy; Ballard Senior Center Director Carlye Teal; lifetime Ballard resident Duane Rakowski; Seattle Department of Transportation stalwart John Olson (fly casting teacher); Shilshole-raised Stefanie Dorn (Boat girl) and talented local filmmakers John Helde and SJ Chiro; along with writer Michael Raymond.

Since last January, the “eagle” of 32nd Avenue Northwest has received a worthy habitat thanks to Tristan Heberlein of Solstice Landscapes Northwest. Lynn Wirta of Small Faces has retired. Lilian Riley, founder of Groundswell NW has won an award from Seattle Parks. I’ve finally met Joel Niemeyer’s mother Zita Niemeyer, who is perhaps the longest full-time employee at Ballard’s Swedish Hospital. Rebekah Schilperoort has left journalism. Sadly, Ballard has lost the irrepressible Doris Parker and Marvel Kolseth.

On the brighter side, Ballard Health Club’s absolutely beloved yoga director M.J. Reynolds got married, and this year’s Penny Harvest at Adams Elementary School exceeded all previous years.

But getting back to dogs, my new neighbors adopted an absolute charmer from the Seattle Animal Shelter.

In August, I brought home a new kitten and found myself with a dog for several hours when a contractor inadvertently forgot his dog Rex.

On a weeknight in the very darkest of days before the winter solstice, the doorbell rang and there was my teenage neighbor with the charmer named Chatzi in her arms.

“Could you look after Chatzi for a little while?” she asked. I held out my arms to accept a full-grown dog for perhaps the first time in my life.

“My brother got hit by a truck riding home on his bike,” the neighbor girl said, and I looked toward the street as though it was my job to keep the dog from attempting a rescue.

What ensued was a confusing few minutes as I learned my neighbors were going to walk to Ballard Swedish.

“I’ll drive you!” I called to them on the sidewalk, but then I had to have my neighbor hold the dog again while I found shoes and car keys.

From outside the emergency room, I could see the neighbor boy was able to stand, although his father was carefully easing a coat off a limp arm.

The dog loves that boy, and Chatzi didn’t want me to drive him away.

Is it legal to drive with a dog in your lap? He wouldn’t sit anywhere else.

At the stoplight on Market Street the dog licked my face. That’s where I drew the line.

The bike was totaled; the wrist needed surgery; the family, including Chatzi, was reunited within hours.

Although I’ve never even owned a dog, twice this year people have given me dogs to mind. I’d like to think that on the cusp of my 50th year, at the start of this new decade, that I’m the one learning new tricks.

Two years ago I didn’t think I could move, but now I’d like to think I can even open my arms to dogs and new humans.

On New Year’s Eve, I walked a video back to Rain City, then stood for a moment to wipe rain drops from my glasses. That’s why I didn’t see it coming. An exuberant Golden Retriever jumped at me, actually throwing me back with the force of his weight and front legs on my thighs.

Of course, I thought, a send-off for the Year of the Dog.

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