By Pat Zimmer, Street Roots
When skateboarders rode by Dwd [pronounced DA-wed] and his dog, Kephirah, on the streets, he noticed that Kephirah seemed ready to bolt. The rattle of wheels on the pavement and the bodies zipping past were sirens to her herding nature. It was just a matter of time, he figured, until she gave chase and knocked someone off their board.
“These guys were doing something crazy in her mind,” he says. “So, not wanting them to get a crowning, I thought, ‘I’ll just teach her to skate.’”
He borrowed a friend’s board and took Kephirah to a skate park in Salem. Her fellow boarders there loved it. She was dropping into the bowl and riding down the side. She saw how it worked.
“Street Roots gives us a chance to do something that benefits the community, not just being a liability.”
Now, when boarders go by, Kephirah just watches. Instead of seeing something crazy or scary, Dwd explains, “She’s just like, ‘Hey it’s a homie on a board.’”
In the year that Dwd and Kephirah have been together, she’s learned to be a service dog and a working dog – to do water retrievals, and, of course, to skateboard.
“She’s the strongest, smartest dog I’ve ever had,” he tells me. “I can’t keep up with her. I keep trying to find new things to teach her. She learns everything so quick.”
Dwd and Kephirah met when the dog was just a puppy; the runt of a litter of 11. A friend, on seeing how good Dwd was with dogs, asked if he’d be willing to take Kephirah. At first, he demurred. He was living on the streets. He didn’t need a dog that had problems.
Then he thought again. The dog’s real problem, he figured, was that she had to fight her litter mates for food. “So I took her,” he recalls, “thinking I could do better for her than her mama could.”
He named her Kephirah, which means “lioness” in Hebrew. Like a lioness, she had beautiful golden eyes and a coat rich with reds and yellows. He fed Kephirah well. She grew and got strong. She’s now outgrown both of the siblings she was with when Dwd got her.
Dwd made a big change three years ago, going from being “danged near a full recluse” to a nomad. He can’t say exactly why, except that “all the winds seemed to be blowing in one direction.” So he packed a backpack with some cotton clothes and went on the road. “When the spirit’s trying to move you, sometimes you gotta jump.”
He travelled the Interstate 5 corridor, meeting people and having new experiences. He eventually found himself in Mount Vernon in northern Washington. He took a class to find out more about his strengths and weaknesses. He didn’t learn much from the assessment, he said, but he did get encouragement from the teacher and other students alike to pursue his talent for photography. A friend gave him a camera.
He arrived in Portland in the spring, camera in hand. Ducking into an art gallery one day to get out of the rain, he struck up a conversation with one of the gallery employees. He talked about his love of photography. She suggested he seek out Street Roots, where he found a warm welcome.
“She’s the strongest, smartest dog I’ve ever had. I can’t keep up with her. I keep trying to find new things to teach her. She learns everything so quick.”
“They’re teaching me some things about photojournalism and giving me a real chance to get an education,” Dwd says. “I can’t wait to get my pictures published.”
Dwd explains that he appreciates that Street Roots offers low-barrier employment. “A lot of us don’t have the best job history. A lot of us have real problems,” he continues. “Street Roots gives us a chance to do something that benefits the community, not just being a liability. I want people turned on to this paper.”
Those who run into Dwd and Kephirah near the Starbucks at Northwest Couch Street and 11th Avenue – a post they share with other vendors who agree to work together – you might get treated to Kephirah’s delivery service. If Dwd tells her to, she’ll take money from you, bring it to Dwd, get the paper from Dwd and deliver it back to you. She even has her own Street Roots badge.