Lucca is a three-year-old lab and a new member of the Victim Services Unit with the Vancouver Police.
He has an important job to fill: Lucca is the department’s first intervention dog.
He is a project of the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) and has been bred and raised to be a quiet and gentle presence for those who are experiencing trauma pain, grief, illness or injury.
Petting him or just having him in the same room could make a world of difference for a sexual assault victim or a grieving mother.
Lucca’s 24-7 caretaker, Sue Baker, is also a Crisis Intervention Caseworker with VPD’s Victim Services.
Baker says she and Lucca can be called to a variety of situations — like the scene of a sudden death or a young victim trying to recall difficult details of a crime. They can even be asked to attend a court hearing to provide support for a traumatized witness.
She says Lucca’s presence can help calm someone down, reduce their anxiety as well as lower their heart rate and blood pressure. His involvement can reduce strong emotion and provide a healthy distraction. On top of that, he can be a source of touch and physical comfort.
Baker says Lucca has already worked with a number of their clients including victims of assaults and armed robberies, as well as on homicide files. He has also been out on calls for ongoing support to victims.
Baker says Lucca’s appearances usually draw a great response from the victims.
She says people respond in different ways – some will pet him and kiss him in a physical way, others find his presence comforting emotionally.
Victims are allowed to interact with him in any way they feel comfortable and Lucca has been trained for that and his handler knows he will have a reliable response.
PADS, the organization that trained Lucca, is a volunteer driven non-profit that has been around for nearly 30 years.
Intervention canines is their newer program that identifies dogs like Lucca, with the temperament that suits work in Victim Services.
Last month, the organization received a provincial grant for intervention canines and Lucca became the first recipient.
“These are dogs that seek out people who are upset, hurting or afraid. Lucca is one of those dogs,” said Tara Dong, a communications manager for PADS.
To learn more about the program, volunteer or donate, go to PADS.ca.