By Colleen Inman
February 12, 2016
Encounters with Rikki is a nonfiction book about a Golden Labrador Retriever that was rescued from Hurricane Katrina and later found her true calling as a therapy dog.
My family has 2 dogs, one is a rescue dog that we adopted from a local pet shelter. This process of adopting dogs in near and dear to my heart. While I do not consider myself a pet enthusiast, I do love animals and believe they all deserve a chance at a loving family.
This book starts out by introducing us to some background information about Hurricane Katrina. Many of these details about what happened especially with animals I had no idea about. Families were forced to leave their pets in their homes when being evacuated from the area. Most shelters and hotels that were taking in evacuees did not allow animals. Supplies like food and water were limited, so many families did what they thought was best for their pets and left them locked and secured in their homes. Unfortunately, there was no way to predict the magnitude of the storm and many pets lost their life during and after the 12 hours of high wind, rain, and flooding that filled the area during the hurricane.
Those who decided to bring their animals with them later realized they were not going back to their homes as quickly as they thought. They were forced to surrender their pets to the many over filled Humane Societies and shelters in surrounding areas.
This is how Rikki got her start. Rikki was surrendered as a puppy along with her mother, and a sibling puppy to an animal shelter in Florida during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
As Chuck and Patty Mitchell were watching all the terrible things happening around them they knew there was something more they could do to help. Since they were animal lovers and had adequate space on their property they decided to foster displaced Katrina animals was a way they could give back. They were immediately sent 2 puppies, Rikki, and her sibling puppy Roscoe. Roscoe was adopted some time later, but Rikki, full name Rikki Lake Pontchartrain, had gained a special place in their heart so they decided to adopt her themselves.
There was something special and unique about Rikki, she had a calmness to her, a way with people. She seemed to pick up on the needs of others and enjoyed being around them. When Chuck and Patty began to notice this they started looking into the various types of therapy dog programs.
Throughout the book author, Julie Strauss Bettinger, chronicles Rikki’s journey to becoming one of the most exceptional therapy dogs many had ever seen. There is something so special about the human-animal bond that makes Rikki’s job so essential and important.
One of Rikki’s jobs that she really excelled at was being a courthouse therapy dog, the book goes into a lot of detail about 1 particular case involving a young girl named Zoe who was the victim of sexual abuse at the age of 5. Rikki was able to gain her trust giving her the courage she needed to testify against her abuser to send him to jail for a life sentence. This case is very detailed in the book which does make it hard to read. I cannot imagine what that young girl and, unfortunately, many young children are forced to go through all the time.
This case was very important because it opened doors for Rikki and other therapy dogs to be used with young victims in the courtroom.
Rikki not only did great work in the courtroom, she was also able to help children learn to read through the READ program, and work with patients in rehabilitation centers. Her brother Roscoe was also working in various roles throughout the dog therapy community.
To think over 10 years ago these 2 dogs started out as abandoned puppies after Hurricane Katrina is amazing. It goes to show that loving owners and caregivers who take the time to see into a dog’s heart and soul and know they were meant for something more, something great are truly amazing.
I enjoyed reading this book, some parts were hard to read as a mother to young girls, but knowing that there is good being done in this world helped to balance it out. It was a truly inspirational book. It was about so much more than a dog, it was about a mission to change the way we see animals and to begin valuing their abilities and potential. Thank you to Chuck and Patty Mitchell for opening their hearts and lives to Rikki, and to Julie Strauss Bettinger for sharing Rikki’s story through this book.
You can order this book on their website https://www.inkshares.com/books/encounters-with-rikki or Amazon. It is available as a paperback or e-book. 20% of the royalties from this book will be given back to the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital for the Animal Therapy Program.