Sports and animals bring people together. The two are the kindling that ignites conversations between strangers.
When meeting somebody for the first time, sports and dogs are my go-to-can’t-miss topics. For the most part, they are safe ground, unlike politics, which I steer away from.
Being a sports scribe, it’s only natural that people want to talk sports with me, may it be in the aisle at Safeway, during a repetition at the gym or on a dog walk in the hood.
The latter is how I interacted with Kate Ballenger. She either stopped her white Toyota Rav4 while leaving Cove Drive or stood in her yard on Shahafka Drive to small talk about sports or dogs.
I looked forward to each encounter. I never told Kate that, but it would have been nice to, though.
Kate died last Sunday inside her red house that was always decorated during the summer with flower baskets — I even helped her hang a few.
There are no flower baskets this summer as cancer kept her from enjoying her final few months on Earth. She was 79.
Outside of knowing that her favorite NFL team was the Cincinnati Bengals and that she loved her dog, Molly, I didn’t know a lot about Kate.
How did she get to Kodiak? What did she do on the island? Did she have grandkids?
I learned more about her when reading Mike Rostad’s column on Page 5 of today’s paper than I did the past decade living down the street from her.
I should have been the nosy neighbor, but I didn’t want to be that guy.
She was an avid reader of the newspaper, and always thought that I was fired or had found another gig when she didn’t see my byline for a few weeks.
Lady Human would assure Kate that I was only on vacation and would soon be back. She was always thrilled when I returned because that meant the end of wire stories. She liked reading about the athletic achievements of Kodiak youths.
Most of all, she enjoyed her dog and was always happy to see my boys walking down the street.
When Molly got feisty with Gizmo, Kate dropped off I’m sorry dog treats at the office.
Kate talked about getting another dog when Molly died in 2019, but she never did. When Gizmo died in October, she sprinkled us with uplifting words.
Thinking about it, my last interaction with Kate might have been in April after I had written about Cody fetching a lady product out of the bathroom garbage.
She couldn’t believe Lady Human was still talking to me after that.
Here’s to you, Kate. Enjoy the Bengals from up above — they might even snag a few wins this season with Joe Burrow under center.