Remembering Rikki

Rikki (Lake Pontchartrain) Mitchell crossed the Rainbow Bridge the afternoon of Wednesday, May 10, just short of her 12th birthday. She passed peacefully at home, in the arms of her loving family, finally succumbing to a brain tumor. Born a golden retriever in June, 2005, she came to Tallahassee as a Hurricane Katrina rescue puppy, and found her forever home with Chuck and Patty Mitchell. She loved her home in the swamp and especially loved running the beaches and woods with her big brother, Roscoe. Almost as much as she loved helping people. She is survived by her sisters Loosey and Jackie Browne.

Rikki’s true calling was as a therapy dog, and in early 2007 she became a proud member of the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy Program, its Reading Education Assistance Dogs program, and its Florida Courthouse Therapy Dogs program. For almost 10 years Rikki helped patients, families, students, victims, witnesses, and staff cope with the difficulties of managing through trauma and challenging situations. She made everyone feel better and inspired them to get to where they needed to be, whether through motivating rehabilitation, improving reading skills, or finding their voice so they could testify about their abuse.

Rikki’s life and work is beautifully told in “Encounters With Rikki: From Hurricane Katrina rescue to exceptional Therapy Dog”, by Julie Bettinger. It has received many accolades and is currently a finalist for two national book awards.

Rikki was a pioneer and groundbreaker in so many areas. She was the first dog to receive a Caring Paws Award from TMH. The first therapy dog to work with a child victim in a deposition, and the first to be in courtroom helping a child victim tell her story so her predator could be convicted of his crime. Rikki was the first to receive a proclamation from the Leon County Commission. She was the first to work with capital cases in the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, and among the first Reading Education Assistance Dogs in our area. Her work lead directly to the passage of the first law in Florida and the nation that allows therapy dogs to accompany children and vulnerable adults into the courtroom. Now most of the states have animal therapy programs assisting in their judicial proceedings.

Rikki loved being a volunteer for TMH, and an endowment has been established in her name to support the TMH Animal Therapy Program and its community wide services. Contributions may be made to the Friends of Rikki Endowment, c/o TMH Foundation, 1331 E. 6th Ave, Tallahassee, Fl, 32303. A memorial service will be planned for the future. Rikki loved everyone she ever met, and will be missed by many.

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