A few weeks ago, I wrote about the death of Ballari the Siberian husky, who won the hearts of an entire community in the Uptown district of Oakland, including the children at Broadway Head Start, who would stick their little hands through the fence on their playground to pet him when he made his daily visits.

That moved Jean Royson, of Albany, to write me about her golden/lab mix, Disa, who held a similar place in the affections of the children at Ocean View Elementary School.

Disa, whose name means "Goddess of Love" in the Icelandic language, died last fall at the venerable age of 17, and the kids are still mourning.

"Since we live a block from the school, all the children and parents walking to and from school always passed by our gate and petted Disa," says Jean. "She touched the hearts of a whole generation of children.

"When she died of natural causes, we were all so bereft. And I couldn't imagine how to tell hundreds of children that she had died. So I placed a sign and small memorial on the gate.

"The feelings of the neighborhood and community were filled with such grief, I put up a poster lined with pink ribbon on the gate for the kids to emote. I also attached four colored markers with long cotton string.


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"When I came home from work that evening, the poster was covered twice over with loving sentiments! For example, 'She was soft and furry and always let me pat her,' 'Our daughter got over her fear of dogs from Disa,' 'She taught our family how to love,' etc.

"Then I put another blank poster out the next day, edged with baby blue satin ribbon, and again it was covered with childhood scribbles expressing their love for Disa.

"That still didn't seem to be enough. I had many talks with small children about death and dying, which was not easy. They all wanted more.

"So I had 50 wallet-sized photos made of her lying in the front garden. I affixed a plastic holder onto the gate and placed them inside. They were gone the first day! So I made another 50, and another 50 and so on until 250 photos were taken.

"This went on for weeks! It was beautiful and so touching."

But not surprising. To a little kid, a dog like Ballari or Disa is a real-life Cookie Monster: big and strong and hairy, but totally gentle, loving and kind.

A dog will give you unconditional love no matter how you did on your last test or how unpopular you are in school.

A dog will never be cruel.

A dog will do anything to protect the people it loves.

We might have it over them intellectually, but morally they are our superiors in every way.

It reminds me of Mark Twain's advice on the proper etiquette to observe when you go to heaven: "Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in." Rest in peace, Disa. Rest in peace, Ballari. Thank God there are so many more like you out there, waiting in shelters and rescue groups for new homes where they can spread their love.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.

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