For five years, Mark Shaffer and his dog, Chopper, have been visiting people in San Diego hospitals, schools and nursing homes to try to bring some joy into their lives. In those five years, Chopper became arguably the most famous dog in the city. That is, until the beloved dog got his therapy license suspended.
Shaffer said he learned of the suspension after he and Chopper returned home from a trip to Oregon, where they visited police departments and Veterans Affairs hospitals. Pet Partners, the organization that certified Chopper as a therapy dog, informed Shaffer that it did not permit the practice of dogs wearing “costumes.” Chopper had become known for wearing a biker outfit.
“They claim they don't allow dogs in costumes. This is not a costume,” Shaffer said. This is his persona. This is what he is.”
“I was hurt and insulted by the remarks they were saying,” he added.
Pet Partners subsequently released a statement acknowledging the suspension and clarifying the policy:
“While we recognize that many pet owners enjoy costuming their pets at home and even in public settings, particularly around many holiday events, the use of costumes and clothing in an animal-assisted therapy environment raises a number of concerns for the animal, the handler and the clients or patients being seen … Pet Partners harbors no ill will towards motorcycle enthusiasts. Holiday costumes, tutus or clothing other than a scarf are also not allowed.
“We wish Mark and Chopper all the best and hope that they will continue to bring smiles to the people they meet. Mark did receive written warning to correct the behavior before the suspension to follow the appropriate protocol. He is free to dress Chopper as he pleases, just not while volunteering at facilities as a therapy animal team."
Shaffer said he was “hurt” by the suspension, but added that he would be seeking certification through another organization.
Photo Credit: KGTV via ABC News