31 Jul 2023 Titus is Catholic High’s resident dog
By Dwain Hebda
Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock is an institution defined by its traditions. Everywhere you look here – from how students dress, to special events throughout the year, to the ethos of brotherhood stretching back over generations – speaks to things that transcend the passage of time and changing popular taste.
The school’s resident German shepherd, Titus, is but one visible reminder of this unique attribute. The latest in a long line, the 7-year-old pup is a familiar sight on campus, especially during the school year. Wherever he goes in the building or on the grounds, he’s overseeing his boys, accepting the obligatory pats and reassuring by his presence that all is well.
“Titus’ purpose here is to settle the anxiety of some of the boys. That’s really his main role,” said Brother Richard Sanker, CFP. “The kids go through so much at home at times, and they can come in and pet the dog and feel a little bit better.
“There was one boy, I don’t know the whole story, but he would come and he would say to the dog, ‘It’ll be OK, it’ll be OK.’ He was really talking to himself. It was like therapy. Titus is not trained as a therapy dog, but he certainly acts as one.”
Sanker, a Franciscan monk who joined the school in 1983, said a resident dog at Catholic High is a tradition that precedes even his long tenure. He said the late Monsignor George Tribou, a legendary figure who served Catholic High for 50 years, 34 of them as principal and rector, liked having a dog around.
“Father Tribou had a mutt he called Dog; that was before I got here,” Sanker said. “After that, he had a black Lab, Kate, named after Katherine Hepburn.”
The last dog Tribou owned, Jonah, started the current run of German shepherds. Sanker inherited Jonah upon Tribou’s death in 2001. Following Jonah was Zeke, whom Sanker picked out as a puppy and who lived for 13 years and 13 days. Then came Titus.
“I’ve always liked German shepherds,” Sanker said. “In fact, I have a picture of me as a novice brother about 60 years ago, a picture of me with a German shepherd.”
Sanker said all three of the German shepherds he’s owned have fallen right into step with the activity and hubbub of being in an all-boys school environment. They have had run of the grounds and the building but, unlike an average watchdog, were also part of the melee, never lacking companionship.
“I would take Jonah into the woods, and he’d love me to throw stones. He’d get them and run back into the office and lay down next to Father Tribou,” Sanker said. “Father Tribou would say, ‘Would you quit playing with my dog with stones? They’ll break his teeth.’ I think I said OK, and next week I’d be out there throwing stones again and he’d run into the office with them.”
At the same time, Sanker said the three dogs also displayed their own distinct personalities, which in Titus’ case has meant taking his self-appointed role of school gatekeeper very seriously.
“Here’s the difference,” he said. “Jonah was really Father Tribou’s dog. Zeke would just stay outside and relax. But Titus comes in and makes sure everything’s OK. Titus was actually overly protective of me when he was a puppy.”
As time has gone on, Titus has mellowed, but the protective instinct he showed from the time he was fluffy has never fully gone away.
“He knows the kids that walk by or any of the teachers, but he’s alert to strangers in the building. He will go over to them and sniff them out,” Sanker said. “When somebody comes into my office, he comes in with them. The others didn’t do that. He’s a great protector that way.”
The daytime hustle and bustle of the campus during the school year only intensifies how silent the hallways are at night and over summer break. And while a monk’s life is one marked by a special kind of solitude, Sanker said he’s never felt alone thanks to the Lord on his shoulder and a dog by his side.