Medicine Goes to the Pets: Pet Therapy at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center


Over the years I’ve learned to let God teach me how to deal with stressful situations with hope and a happy heart. Most recently I realized He does not always spare us from difficult problems even though we think He should. However, if we shift our perspective, we can see there are other forms of happiness God provides to help us navigate through frustrating and overwhelming obstacles. Last week I visited Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and it was the highlight of my week. I met with an incredibly attractive caregiver who provides security, calm, and a sense of normalcy to hospital patients dealing with difficult times. I believe with 100 percent certainty this caregiver was created as God’s remedy to provide hope and happiness to those affected with illness and injury. This particular caregiver has a huge head, big brown eyes and smile that reached from ear to ear. Calling him handsome would be an understatement. Did I mention he has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen?… and by hands I assume you all know I mean paws! This caregiver’s name is Copper. He’s a 3 1/2 year old Bernese Mountain Dog who began visiting Sharp Chula Vista with his owner, Sharon Ussery, in March 2013.


Copper is one of the five therapy dogs that make up the Sharp Chula Vista Pet Therapy Team. Twice a week, Copper walks the hospital halls with his loving Mom, Sharon. A certified therapy dog, Copper’s goal is to positively enhance the mood of hospital patients who may be dealing with the stress of hospitalization. I had the chance to meet Copper and Sharon through a sit-down with the hospital’s Volunteer Services Manager, Lisa Golden, who explained that there have been 1,300 pet therapy visits ( and counting ) and 6,000 hours of pet therapy at Sharp Chula Vista since the program began in 2007. Wow! Pretty PAW-ESOME right? Golden has personally seen the emotional impact pet therapy has on patients and their families. Golden says, “Therapy dogs like Copper provide patients with happiness and satisfaction during stressful times. Even though this form of healing cannot be measured by a doctor’s instruments or recorded on a patient’s chart, it is clear that an experience with a therapy dog makes all the difference in the world. The dogs provide emotional support and a diversion from the stressors of illness.” Within the first 10 minutes of chatting with Lisa and Sharon, I watched over 10 people stop by to pet and say hello to Copper. These people weren’t even patients- they were nurses and doctors lighting up with bliss when they saw him. I can see why people fall in love with him so easily. He loves the attention and very willingly takes pride in bringing people joy. I think Copper is the hospital’s favorite visitor and was meant for the pet therapy job which he clearly appears to take a lot of pride in.


Along with the emotional benefits of adoring pets, studies have shown the presence of animals has a positive effect on human physiology. Pet therapy can decrease a patient’s blood pressure and heart rate. But most of all, these furry friends make us feel loved and at ease. Other benefits of pet therapy include: -Reduction of the stress of hospitlization, making it a more positive experience -The opportunity for sensory stimulation through touch -Increased communication ability for withdrawn individuals -Enhancement of participation in occupational and physical therapy -Improvement of reading skills -Increased compassion for animals, self confidence and self-esteem.

Therapy dogs provide unconditional love and acceptance. They do not care that your hair is gone from chemotherapy, that a stroke has left you confused and speechless, or that you have a physical or mental disability. With the facilitation of their human handlers, they create a unique bond with patients and visitors that has a very real healing dimension. For Sharp Chula Vista, this program is a system that seems to be working out quite nicely. I hope to see more hospitals follow Sharp Chula Vista’s lead and recognize the tremendous benefits that come from pet therapy. We are blessed to have these amazing animals that provide an essential comfort that no medicine can. Check out the other four pet therapy dogs that make up the Sharp Chula Vista Pet Therapy Team:

Bentley Bentley
Max Max
Rayo Rayo
Tar Tar

One comment

  1. I love your blog! Are you familiar with BlogPaws? If not you should join our community of pet lovers. Our 2016 BlogPaws Conference is in Phoenix this year near the end of June. You can go to to find out more. Keep up the good work!

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