My name is Beth Buster. I own a pet sitting and dog walking company here in Louisville, KY and I have always loved companion animals and their people.
Living in my safe, comfortable suburban bubble, I was pretty (embarrassingly) naive about homelessness. Sure...I'd seen panhandlers here and there but had no idea that true homelessness exists here in my beautiful hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
But THOUSANDS of residents in Louisville are homeless.
Some 6,300 people lived in shelters or on the streets across the city in 2016, according to the most recent homeless census.
The NEW annual count for 2017 will be released in the coming weeks by the Coalition for the Homeless. The group conducts annual street counts each winter to gauge the scope of the city’s homeless population.
About 1,000 children remain without a home and more than 3,500 people with disabilities spend nights in shelters and on the street, according to the count. The data also showed shelters across the city are consistently at or near capacity, and more than 800 people occupy these shelters on any given night in Louisville.
Homelessness can exist in every city and town. In a single night, over 554,000 people are homeless across America.
On a beautiful, warm Indian Summer day in August of 2013 I saw the face of homelessness and my heart was changed forever. I took my (then) 17 year old son Jacob to lunch at a restaurant with outdoor patio seating. We chose to eat outside to enjoy the sunshine.
We had just sat down at our table with our food when a skinny, shirtless, dirty young homeless man with dreadlocks sat down on a park bench not too far from us. He had a little companion-dog with him that followed him happily up to the seating area and sat at the young man’s feet, tail thumping happily between his legs, looking up lovingly at his Master. I watched the young man leaned down and pet his dog lovingly, whispering words of endearment to it.
I immediately started to stereotype...to judge. I remember hoping that he didn't come over to us and ask for anything. The thought went through my head that he was probably a drug addict or something. They both looked very hungry, but neither the man nor his dog was begging or asking for food. The homeless man was actually whistling if I remember correctly, and searching for cigarette butts that he could smoke for later.
Without even a word my son got up and took his lunch over to the young man, introduced himself, asked him if he was hungry and offered his food to him. Introductions and fist-bumps ensued, while I sat there with my jaw on the table feeling really ashamed of myself. My son sat and talked with him a few moments as if *gasp* the homeless man was his equal. He told my son that he was homeless. My son showed kindness and compassion to to him and treated him no different than he would have one of his friends. The homeless man accepted the food and ever so humbly thanked Jacob. To my complete surprise, before he took ONE bite of the food he was given he tore half off and gave it to his dog.
He fed his dog first.
That was the first time I had paid attention to the real "face" of homelessness. My eyes were opened and so was my heart.
To this day I don't know who that young man was, or what his circumstances were. I never saw him again and I've looked for years for him. He was almost certainly someone's son, brother or father. He was absolutely loved and adored by his little dog and the feeling seemed mutual. Knowing what I know now, his little dog was probably the only true source of unconditional love, companionship and friendship that he had at that time...or maybe ever.
Maybe he was an angel sent to help me be a better person.
He will be forever burned into my mind, and the selflessness of my son and the love of a homeless stranger for his faithful companion is part of the inspiration behind "My Dog Eats First".