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Jenna Jackson, Oakland
This was 1991. Being fat, black, nerdy, smelly, and sensitive about it (contrary to today's fashionably ironic hipster shit) was not cool at all back then. I was bullied so badly, I wanted to kick my own ass.
Winter break eve; waiting at the bus stop, next to the country bar. Two overgrown eighth-graders are giving me hell. Suddenly, snapping out from behind a dumpster, an angry mongrel of a dog starts barking and snarling at the jerks. They step off.
It actually seemed as if he wanted to be my friend. His eyes were smiling when he approached me. The school bus pulled up and I quickly got to a seat, but when I looked out the window he'd already split. Miraculously, when I get off the bus seven hours later, there he is! As he followed me home I decided to nickname him "The Champ."
Since he had my back, I took care of him. Tricky though, considering the fact that I had to make sure my family didn't know of his existence. For five days during that chilly vacation I was able to feed, bathe, and play with The Champ. He slept under my bed, and we watched a lot of MTV.
The sad part: My grandfather, June Bug, came home smashed (which was not unusual), tripped over the kerosene heater in the living room, and damn near burned our house down. In the smoky late-night scramble, my pet freaked out and bit the drunk's leg. He took a McGruff-sized chomp.
Aunt Shirley came to pick me up. I kept asking her if the dog would be okay. Wasn't so worried about June Bug. She just kept driving me around town and telling me not to worry about it. By the time she dropped me off, The Champ was gone.
DeWayne Frazier Dickerson, Oakland
One day my friend Karen said, "Hi, Jerry. How would you like to have a nice little puppy? I know that you recently lost your dog, Shadow, and I know that you know how to take care of animals." I said, "I can't do that. I'm still grieving for my poor dog, Shadow."
A few days later, Karen came by again. She was carrying a tiny puppy. It was a Miniature Pinscher. I looked at her and said, "I still don't want a dog." She said, "Why don't you try him out?" Then she sat the puppy on my lap and it curled up in my arms. I said, "Maybe I'll keep him for a day, but I am going to find out about this breed first." The info from the Internet was that they were not related to the Doberman Pinscher. They were a hyper dog and they barked a lot. It said that this breed was a bad apartment dog.
Later, while I was working at my desk, Karen came in with the puppy again. She asked, "Why don't you keep him for one night?" She had two other puppies with her, but both were smaller. Karen looked over at me holding the dog and laughed, saying, "You know you're going to keep him." I said, "Okay, Karen, I'll try him for a week. But I don't think this is going to work out."
When I got home, I put some papers in the bathroom and left him for a while. When I next looked, he had pooped on the floor. I told him, "No pooping in the house," and took him for a walk. After that, he never did his business in the house again — ever. I thought, "This must be a smart dog." I put him in a crate and left him for a while. When I returned he had ripped the skin off his nose trying to escape. I was afraid to put him in the crate again. I thought, "This dog is not going to work out.Ó
I decided to put him in the bathroom while I slept at night. He made so much noise in that bathroom that I had to let him sleep in my bed. He didn't like it when I left him home alone, so I began taking him with me wherever I went. He was totally attached to me by now, and his trial time was coming to an end. Right around this time is when I began to realize that this dog was actually training me as much as I was training him.
I called him King, or "King of the Mini Pins." Some people started calling him "Little King." Of course I had to keep him. The Chinese people who live in my apartment building call him King and refer to me as King's father. But they don't know who I am?
Jerome Essel, Berkeley
Shoshan Takes a Nap
It was a warm morning. Shoshan had just finished her breakfast of mixed cereal, mashed bananas, applesauce, cut mango, and broccoli. She was stuffed, and zoned out on my shoulder to digest her food before playing with her toys. I was in the driver's seat facing the sun and closed my eyes, taking in the warmth through my skin and feeling incredible. We both fell asleep for a short nap. A woman parked her car and proceeded to shop. Several minutes later the woman came out and walked over to the truck to comment on how bonded we seemed to be. Shoshan had pressed her body into my cheek, her feathers fluffed up, absorbing the sun.
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