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Adopted dogs teach circuit court judge about love, loyalty, friendship

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Triblocal Naperville
Linda Kane, A.D.O.P.T. volunteer
July 22, 2011
Daisy, formerly a long-time resident of A.D.O.P.T. Pet Shelter, now lives happily with fellow canines Lucy and Jacob in Judge Robert Livas’s Plainfield home (A.D.O.P.T. photo).

Robert Livas, Will County circuit court judge, wasn’t much of a “dog person.”

“I didn’t want dogs,” Livas said. “They were just too much trouble and too much work. I never really understood real ‘dog people.’

“Before 20 years ago, when somebody said their dog died, I would have said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad’ and not think anything about it. I didn’t understand it.”

But Livas’s life was about to change dramatically.

How It All Started

When his former wife brought home a small chocolate lab named Otter and a black shepherd named Raven, Livas would experience a whole new world.

“It took me all of about 24 hours before I realized how much I adored those dogs,” the Illinois judge said. “It’s very tough to be hard-hearted and resist the affection of a dog; they just pulled me in.”

But Livas’s life would change again when, three years later, he and his wife divorced.

“I kept the dogs,” Livas said. “[And] a friend of mine no longer wanted to take care of his dog Heidi, an older shepherd, so I took her.

“From that point on, I began to refer to the dogs not as ‘my dogs,’ but as ‘my girls.’ It didn’t matter if I had a male. The dogs were always to me ‘the girls.’ That’s how it all started.

Ursula Enters the Picture

Livas and his ‘girls’ lived happily until, in April 1995, a car struck and killed Otter. A couple of months later, Heidi was diagnosed with cancer.

Raven would soon be alone.

Livas, a Plainfield resident, thinks a friend referred him to A.D.O.P.T., (Animals Deserving of Proper Treatment), then located inside Naperville’s Boulder Terrace Animal Hospital.

“[The A.D.O.P.T. staff] brought out Hayward, ‘a congenial yellow lab,’ and Ursula, ‘a bizarre little shepherd, absolutely psychotic.’”

Unsure of the timing, Livas decided to wait. But when he returned a couple days later, he learned someone else had adopted Hayward.

“I made the mistake of asking Camille Stelter, one of the volunteers, to give me just one reason why I should adopt this creature, Ursula,” Livas said.

“Because no one else wants her,” Stelter said.

“I was ‘dead,’” Livas said.

In the days to come, “Ursula ate my shoes, she ate my new suit, she ate the furniture, she tore into the garbage,” Livas said. “But there was something about that dog; it was the expression on her face.

“I knew when I got that dog home that [Ursula] had bonded with me immediately.”

Livas says he endured a lot of aggravation in the beginning—Ursula went after people; she hated bikes; she jumped in the river once to chase two guys in a canoe; she even bit people.

“Twice I called Ms. Stelter to return her,” Livas said. “She patiently reminded me why I had taken her. Both times, I relented.”

When Raven died unexpectedly, Ursula was alone...but not for long.

As fate would have it, Livas took in two “new” dogs: Lucy, another “high-voltage energy” dog, and Alex, his daughter’s puppy.

“Eventually, Ursula became very maternal toward Lucy and very protective of [Lucy and Alex]. The three of them were together for a long time.”

Ursula Becomes Ill

When Ursula began having problems with her back legs, Livas took her to the Ark, a dog rehabilitation facility in North Aurora specializing in hydrotherapy. Ursula would walk on a treadmill in chest-high water.

“One of the things I loved about this dog was that if I stood in front of the glass case [during therapy], she would always try to walk to me,” he said. “Dogs have such heart in terms of what they continue to try to do.”

About Judge Robert P. Livas...

  • grew up in Chicago
  • taught on Chicago’s south side
  • served as a police officer in Cabrini Green Housing Development
  • serves as Circuit Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Will County, Joliet, IL
  • in 2008, awarded the “Illinois Judge of the Year” by the Illinois Crime Commission

Judge Livas about his love for Ursula:

“Her personality was a lot like mine. I have a really strong, determined attitude about some things where I will not quit.

“And like her, I can be ill-tempered, stubborn, willful, and the fact that I had been adopted—she was adopted—I didn’t realize it, but I think subconsciously I was connecting to her.”

Judge Livas about the world of dogs:

“In the world of dogs, there is no betrayal. Once they commit to you, that’s it. There’s no lying; there’s no gray area. You always know where you stand with that animal.

“And the only thing they ask in return is trust.

–information provided by Judge Robert Livas

But Ursula “collapsed and died at the house,” Livas said.

“I loved that dog so much,” he said, pausing. “Give me a minute here–sorry–that I couldn’t let her go.

“In retrospect, I think I kept her going too long. I sometimes have guilt that I should have let her go earlier. [But] she didn’t want to go.”

Life After Ursula

Soon after losing Ursula, Livas also lost Alex to lung cancer.

“I watched Lucy carefully because she was very close to Alex,” Livas said. Finally I said, ‘Let’s go back to A.D.O.P.T. and see what’s going on.”

There Livas found not one but two new playmates for Lucy: Jacob, another “high-voltage dog,” and Daisy, the dog that had lived at A.D.O.P.T. the longest.

“They are wonderfully sweet dogs,” he said. “There are times, [though], when I’ll be walking these dogs, [that] I’ll break down crying over Ursula and Alex.

“Dogs have given me FAR more than I’ve given them.”

Interesting words from someone who 20 years before said he “didn’t want dogs.”

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