WILSON — Catherine Titus won’t be forgotten by those who have crossed her path. Years from now — perhaps even decades — they will speak of her unforgettable story of self-sacrifice and eccentric ways. Storytellers will recall how this 77-year-old lady once lived in a rusted and gutted van on a lonely hilltop in the country, spending her meager income on the care of about 110 stray or abandoned dogs. She likely will be recalled in one of two ways: animal activist heroine or crazy woman who lived with dozens of dogs. The reality may lie somewhere in between. "Catherine is not crazy,” said Karin Morrison, who has operated the Compassion Seeds Animal Sanctuary in nearby Healdton for the past 20 years. "I get angry when I hear someone call her crazy. She’s actually quite intelligent. She didn’t ask for all of this. But people have continuously dumped these animals off in the country where she lives, knowing she won’t turn them away. "What has she sacrificed? Her life. She has given her life for these dogs.”
No heat, water in vanTitus lives with no heat or running water inside a battered white van with two broken windows and a sliding side door that doesn’t shut. The van itself appears to have grown from the hill where it now rests; its bald and flattened tires partially choked by hard, caliche dirt. At night, she sleeps in a folding chair among her dogs inside the van with a ragged string of Christmas lights as her only source of light. From those dim lights she sometimes writes poetry about the dogs she has buried in the pasture where she resides. Amazingly, Titus has lived this way for seven years since moving to Oklahoma from Fort Worth, Texas. Virtually all of her $700 Social Security check goes toward the rent of the property, food for her adopted canines and storage for the food. Her monthly feed bill ranges between $700 and $800, and Titus said it’s only through the generosity of a local feed store that she is allowed to pay that bill in smaller portions. As for herself, she survives mainly off cold sandwiches. She presents a frail 4-feet 11-inch, 103-pound frame to visitors and walks gingerly across a rugged terrain with a makeshift walking stick. Her joy: Wherever she walks, she is followed by her dogs.
Dogs keep arriving"Why do I live this way?” said Titus, who said she worked for decades as a respiratory therapist in Missouri and Texas before retiring in 1993. "How could I turn away all these dogs? If I don’t take care of them, who will?” Word of her compassion for dogs has slowly spread across the countryside. "Dogs have been chained to the fence, thrown over the fence in plastic bags and even left in the mailbox,” Titus said. "Once I found five puppies crammed into the mailbox. I saved two of them.” Titus scanned the dogs milling around her, adding, "There’s one of them. I call him Mailbox.” "All my dogs have names,” she continued. "Most of them are named after television characters. I have all of the ‘Friends’ – Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, and Ross.” Despite the love, Titus battles a crisis. The dogs keep arriving. Fortunately, Morrison and an anonymous donor recently stepped in to help Titus find homes for the dogs. Sixty dogs were taken to Lawton and Oklahoma City to be spayed and neutered at $45 per animal, and are now living at a private shelter. Morrison is setting up a trust fund for Titus and her dogs at a local bank. "I don’t want them to do to Catherine what they have done to other older people — drag them into court and crucify them because they had a big heart,” Morrison said. "She doesn’t deserve that. She’s really an angel for what she has done.”