The Internets most famous therapy dog, Chopper the Biker Dog, has lost his therapy dog certification from Pet Partners after being certified for five years because of the biker costume and the image associated with it. In an exclusive interview on Pet Radio, Mark Shaffer spoke to us publicly for the first time about the startling email he got from one of this countries largest therapy dog certification organizations after returning from a long trip up the coast from Southern California to Oregon visiting hospitals and nursing homes.
Pet Partners does have rules that prohibit any of their certified therapy dogs to wear “costumes” on official therapy visits. Mark acknowledges this but claims the organization has had full knowledge of what Chopper does for the last five years, and another five years prior with Chopper’s predecessor, Bandit who Mark also dressed up as a biker.
Mark is a realtor and created the biker personas for both his dogs as a way for people to connect with his dogs through humor. The main role of a therapy dog is simply to provide comfort by their presence and interaction. Usually this involves snuggling, cuddling and petting. The dog requires no special skills other than being cool, calm, and collected. And Chopper is no different. Whether it is public appearances, special events, or hospital and nursing home visits, Chopper turns on the charm and snuggles right up to people in beds, wheelchairs or wherever needed. Chopper’s costume changes nothing and inhibits NOTHING.
With over 100,000 loyal Facebook fans all over North America and the world, constant and continual requests for public appearances, long list of hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions that Chopper visits regularly, losing the certification will not have much of an impact on what Mark and Chopper do. “Chopper and I will continue to do what we have always done,” Mark told us.
There are no laws requiring any “therapy dog” to be certified. It is strictly up to the hospital or institution to allow any dog on the premises or not, and nobody is likely to rescind Chopper’s open invitation.
Listen to our interview with Mark.
Why is Pet Partners doing this? According to Mark and others who have emailed Pet Partners they have gotten the following responses via email:
“It is the therapeutic value and perception of Chopper’s costume itself that we have a concern about (in view of the disadvantages of costumes in the therapeutic context”
And a PR canned response:
A year and half ago, we put a call out for photo submissions of Pet Partners therapy animals teams for consideration to appear in a holiday card. We were thrilled to receive more than 1,200 submissions and tickled by the many photos of animals in costumes/clothing taken when they were not visiting as a therapy animal team – animals dressed as snowmen, princesses, elves, famous historic figures and even one handler dressed as a therapy dog. 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 adheres to the global standards for animal welfare set by the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO.) Their recommendations advising against animals wearing costumes or clothing during an animal-assisted interaction are based on research and input from veterinarians, clinical practitioners, and other human animal interaction organizations.
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.
National Director, Communications, Media and Publications
T 425-679.5514 | C 206-790-5410
Mr Miller leaves out the fact that Chopper’s “costume” consists of a vest and sometimes eye goggles and a dew rag. I believe Mark takes the goggles and head rag off so the patient can pet Chopper, (so for all practical purposes, the only costume Chopper is wearing is a leather vest, the same size as the official therapy vest that Pet Partners sells)
Pet Partners has not given Pet Radio any comment.