Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lucy on the Bench: A Chihuahua Mix Brings Order and Understanding to the Courtroom

By Jolene Miklas. Animal Friends

As more people recognize the benefits of animal interaction, the popular “Take Your Pet to Work Day” is turning into “Take Your Pet to Work Every Day.” Many of Animal Friends’ alums go on to happily “assist” their adopters in their offices, shops and businesses all over Pittsburgh.

In many cases, when pets show up at work, they help people do their jobs better.

District Judge Gene Ricciardi takes his dog Lucy to work in the courthouse, and describes Lucy as “a blessing to our family and an asset to my courtroom.” Lucy joins him on the bench and, he finds, helps people calm down, relax and give him the information he needs in order to make a fair verdict.

Judge Ricciardi wasn’t looking for Lucy, a brown Chihuahua mix, when he found her. He was on his way to a meeting on the South Side when he wondered why cars were stopped on South 18th Street. He got out of his car when he realized there was an animal laying in the middle of the road...a dog he would soon come to know as Lucy.

Lucy was in such bad shape that he didn’t think she was a dog. Her long fur was so filthy and matted, he thought the small, malnourished animal was a cat, and he didn't think she had survived. When he laid her down at the side of the road, she let out a tiny noise, and it was then that he realized that Lucy was alive after all.

Judge Ricciardi tried to track down Lucy’s owners. Perhaps it’s just as well that he never found them. It was obvious that Lucy hadn’t received the love she deserved. Her tail was broken in five places, her teeth had been kicked out and she showed other signs of terrible abuse. Any noise made her run and hide in fear. Judge Ricciardi, his wife and their daughter took Lucy into their home, where they worked hard to nurture Lucy’s broken body and spirit.

“She was such a sad, sad dog,” Judge Ricciardi remembers of their first six months together. “It seemed like there was so much going on in her head.”

Thanks to lots of love and care, Lucy recovered, and today, Judge Ricciardi describes her as a “lady.” He says, “She carries herself with such delicate class and dignity.” Lucy lives with the Ricciardis and their other dog, a Malti-poo named Tank, and has become a loving, laid-back member of their family.

She has also become an unofficial member of Judge Ricciardi’s courtroom. Lucy goes to work with him four days a week. Judge Ricciardi reports that Lucy an uncanny ability for knowing when it’s Thursday—her day off.

Lucy, with her loving nature, also has uncanny ability to bring order to a courtroom.

Judge Ricciardi remembers a trial involving a 13-year-old girl who had been bullied by three boys. “The girl was hysterical, and could not gather her thoughts. It was the saddest situation,” he explains. Neither the girl’s mother nor her lawyer could help the girl calm down enough to give her testimony. Finally, Judge Ricciardi introduced the distraught young girl to Lucy and instructed her to hold Lucy, “like a baby.”

Lucy happily surrendered in the girl’s arms, revealing her belly and tossing her head back. And, after rubbing Lucy’s belly for several minutes, the girl was ready to proceed.

Judge Ricciardi explains, “Somehow, that connection of unconditional love that pets give helped the girl gather the strength she needed to continue.”

Lucy never sticks around if she isn’t welcome, as Judge Ricciardi always makes sure that no one in the courtroom has pet allergies or an aversion to dogs before Lucy takes her post. But once she goes to work, Lucy takes her job seriously.

Once, a boy ended up in Judge Ricciardi’s courtroom due to truancy. He refused to speak during his hearing, and no one could get him to explain why he wasn’t going to school. Judge Ricciardi asked the boy whether he liked dogs, and finally, the boy spoke. He responded, “Yes.”

Judge Ricciardi placed Lucy in the boy’s arms, and slowly, as he pet her, the boy opened up. Judge Ricciardi reports, “While the young man gave us the information we needed, he never looked at me. He just kept looking at Lucy. There was a trust that he shared with that animal.”

Lucy also helps calm adults, including an elderly woman who was so distraught, she had trouble delivering her testimony. Taking a moment to hold Lucy—like a baby, of course—gave her a moment to clear her thoughts and proceed.

But Lucy also helps Judge Ricciardi do his job well.

“I have to be very fair and impartial and a good listener. I have to be very calm at work. Sometimes I’ll pick her up and pet her,” he reports. “I had read about pet therapy before. But now I experience it.”

Surely, that day she was lying in the middle of the road, Lucy couldn’t have imagined that she would come to be so loved, let alone rise to serve on the bench alongside a district judge. Thankfully, Judge Ricciardi and her family gave her the chance to live, and love–and share that love with others in a time of great need.

“All people should consider adopting some pet,” Judge Ricciardi says. “They give unconditional love and give us an opportunity to love back. They give us an opportunity to slow down. They comfort us. Animals have a way of bringing us together.”

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