For the last seven years, Justice Facility Dog (JFD) Lucca has been supporting the mental health of hundreds of victims and witnesses of crime and trauma. The impact Lucca has had on these individuals is truly incredible – and in many cases, victim participation may not have been possible without his support. And just last week, this nine-year-old yellow lab hung up his badge for the last time as Lucca is now officially retired from his post as the goodest-boy at 2120 Cambie Street.
Lucca spent his career in the VPD’s Victim Services Unit (VSU) alongside his handler, and VSU Coordinator, Sue Baker. The Victim Services Unit provides support to victims, families and witnesses of all types of crime and traumatic incidents in the city of Vancouver. Services include emotional support, practical assistance, information and resources.
VPD’s VSU is comprised of seven full time staff, one Justice Facility Dog, and a team of 15 after-hours crisis workers ready to respond to an incident at any hour of the day or night. The dedicated members of the VSU understand the important role that victims and witness play within the Criminal Justice System, while also recognizing the deep emotional, psychological and physical impact of crime and other traumas, and supporting individuals through these difficult times.
Today we will learn specifically about how JDF Lucca supports clients in their journey through the criminal justice system, and next week we will take a closer look at other ways in which Lucca had a significant impact in the community – and a peek at what retirement life looks like for him.
Just like any of the humans in the VSU, JFD Lucca can be involved with a client from the moment of the crisis through to the completion of the matter in the criminal justice system. For example, assisting police with forensic interviews, attending Crown Counsel meetings to support victims as they prepare for trial, and accompanying victims to court to provide support during or after their testimony. But perhaps unlike his human colleagues, Lucca has a much different and unique ability to provide a calmness to clients that perhaps would not otherwise be possible.
“Lucca is an effective icebreaker and helps me to establish safety and rapport quickly with the clients we meet,” explains Sue Baker.
During a trial, Lucca will accompany clients into the courtroom and sit with them in the witness box as they give their testimony. He will usually lay right at their feet and maintain a physical connection with them. For many individuals, this interaction with Lucca can be as simple as holding onto his leash, petting him, letting him rest his head on their feet, speaking to him, or simply looking at his gentle eyes. These easy actions can help clients feel connected and safe.
“Focusing on the feeling of his head resting on their feet, the weight of his body beside them, or even the warmth and softness of his fur has proven to be an effective grounding tool in helping clients reduce their anxiety and fear and remain engaged in the present moment,” add Sue. “Lucca is able to maintain a down position for hours at a time, creating positive and helpful connections for the client.”
“Lucca and I worked with one client who was so traumatized by her experience that it was very challenging for her to even enter the courthouse, let alone provide her testimony. However without it, the trial may not have proceeded. Fortunately she made a very positive connection with Lucca during our first meeting, and was able to proceed with testifying at the trial.”
This particular client’s testimony went on for almost two weeks and during that time her stress and anxiety levels were so high that she often had to take breaks during her testimony. Being able to spend 10-15 minutes connecting with Lucca, and using his physical presence and the weight and warmth of his body was enough to calm and prepare her to resume her testimony.
“It was a privilege and an honour to be witness to the relationship she developed with Lucca and how they worked together to create a space that felt safe enough for her to be able to tell her story,” adds Sue.
Sue shared that she has heard from clients over and over again about the difference Lucca has made to their experience, the strength he has given them to take the next step, and the reassurance he has provided that they don’t need to do it alone.
Lucca has even received many thank you notes over the years from clients and law enforcement colleagues:
Check back next week as we cover some of the other incredible ways that Lucca has impacted individuals and families across Vancouver over the last seven years.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.