Early in 2017, an unaltered female terrier mix with silky red hair was picked up as a stray in Woodland by Yolo County Animal Services. When shelter staff evaluated her for adoption, she failed the behavior test. She was too frightened to walk on leash or to be handled. When they reached for her, she cowered at the back of her kennel. When they attempted to leash her, she struggled against the harness.
“This is a gentle, sweet girl who’s a little intimidated by the world, most especially the scary kennel environment,” reported the Yolo County SPCA, which works closely with the shelter. However, when the SPCA staff brought her into the office for downtime, she quickly warmed up and “inched forward to give us little licks.”
That is the moment the homeless mutt’s life changed for the better. One month later, after being transferred to a Sacramento-based animal rescue group, she finally found her permanent place in the world.
“She’s marvelous,” says Janine Mapurunga, who named her new animal companion Francisca, or Xica (pronounced Sheekah) for short. “I don’t remember how life was before her.”
Mapurunga, a documentary photographer who grew up in Brazil, has had her own struggles. “I had a very difficult childhood,” she says. “I didn’t have a connection with people. I didn’t have any adults I could trust. But I always connected with animals.” Thus begins the story of a woman and a dog, and their journey to find each other.
Roots in Sacramento
Mapurunga first came to Sacramento in 1997, but she also split her time between Europe and Brazil, where her family still lives. “I was always on the go. I felt there was no way I could incorporate a dog into my lifestyle.” She earned an associate degree in photography at Sacramento City College and a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology at UC Davis. Graduate school took her to the University of Barcelona in Spain.
Now residing at the Warehouse Artist Lofts in Midtown, Mapurunga is self-employed as a documentary photographer and recently became certified as a tax professional. “I set roots in Sacramento. I’ve been able to build my own little existence, my own little space, my own little universe. Sacramento has treated me very well over the years.”
In January 2017, while recovering from hip surgery, Mapurunga was housebound for weeks. For company, a friend brought over her feline for an extended stay. “That cat was with me for two weeks and we bonded. When that cat left, I was heartbroken. I felt so lonely. That’s when I realized I had been waiting way too long without a dog in my life.
“I said I’m going to get a dog, and when I have to travel, the universe is going to give me an answer of what to do and who’s going to take care of it.” As soon as she was up and walking again, Mapurunga began her search for a canine companion. By May, she found her.
“My issues with anxiety and depression have been completely different since I got Xica. To see how she opened up to me and started trusting me in such a short period of time—it’s healing some kind of deep aspect of the pain when I was a child.”
Living in an apartment with a four-legged friend results in at least three outings a day. “We walk around the neighborhood, which is lovely because it hasn’t been completely gentrified,” says Mapurunga. “There are still a few people who have been living here for generations. People say hi to Xica and ignore me,” she adds with a smile.
Because Mapurunga does not have a set routine or work schedule, she and Xica have come to an understanding. “She trusts that I’ll be there and I’ll do certain things. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship. She just learns so quickly.”
Box Art Project
Xica is one of Mapurunga’s favorite subjects to photograph. Catch a glimpse of the cute canine at the corner of 16th and E streets, where she is part of the Capitol Box Art Project, a joint effort by Capitol Area Development Authority and Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission to beautify various sections of Sacramento. Mapurunga, one of 22 area artists selected for the project, has five displays around town where her photos are featured on traffic utility boxes.
Xica’s purple harness sports a stainless-steel heart-shaped tag that displays her name and the words “I’m 100% love.” Such is their bond. “She’s more than my buddy, she’s there for me,” says Mapurunga. “There is so much to learn from animals—you learn to love, you learn to trust.”
Cathryn Rakich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.