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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sheba the Catholic Worker

Recently, Jeff Dietrich from the Catholic Worker in Los Angeles reported on the dog called “Sheba” a German shepherd mix providing love and comfort to those on skid row.

For years Sheba lived on the streets with Georgina. "When it was cold, she kept me warm," Georgina recalled recently, "and if I got attacked, she protected me."

Sheba was a patient, loving German shepherd mix whose excess belly fat and low-hanging nipples gave testimony to her maternal nature. Everyone on skid row — kids, cops, prostitutes, pimps — loved her. But her best friends were the homeless street addicts who live outside our Catholic Worker soup kitchen, particularly Georgina.

Humans are hard-wired to need strong connections with other humans, and that children need "an attachment connection with at least one reliably available, protective, psychologically present, and reasonably non-stressed adult."

A dog is no substitute, certainly, for a loving, stable family or for strong human bonds. But most of the addicts on skid row haven't known nurturing families for years, if they ever did. Sheba stepped into a void in Georgina's life, and she made a difference.

On June 26, Sheba was hit by a car and killed. Her memorial service was held in the dining garden of our soup kitchen, but Georgina was not among the more than 30 mourners who attended. Her therapist, fearful of a possible relapse, advised her not to attend. The gathering was full of fond memories of Sheba, but toward the end there was one awkward moment. Was it theologically orrect, we wondered, to pray for a dog? But then someone in the crowd called out, "Let us pray for the loving gift that Sheba was to our community."

We did. And the people of skid row said, "Amen."
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