Chopper Spends Veteran's Day with Heros
Written By Gerry Ashley


San Diego, CA (2011) – So Veteran’s day has come and gone, once again. To many, it meant a 3-day week-end mini-vacation. In warm weather states, that might mean a bar-b-queue with friends, followed Saturday by watching college football on the new 55” high definition TV you just treated yourself to. Sunday, it’s time to wash the car, go to church and then meet your friends at the local pub for a full slate of NFL games. The big question: Chicken Wings or the Pulled Pork sandwich? 

Freedom and Democracy… you just can’t beat it, eh?

But each of us should take a good hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves: what did you do on Friday, 11/11/11 to show your appreciation of the men and women who have served this country so that we might continue to enjoy this freedom and pass it on to our children?

Chopper decided to spend his Veteran’s day in a very special way: He visited the Veteran’s Hospital in La Jolla, CA to show his appreciation to the men and women who are recovering from injuries suffered while defending our freedom through numerous wars.

This is nothing new to Chopper. He is a registered therapy dog and is a regular volunteer at the San Diego Hospice. He also participates in events in support of San Diego Children’s Hospital and has visited patients there and at CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) on a number of occasions.

So when he learned there was a special medical center that treats our veterans, he immediately knew he HAD to go and pay his respects in person.

But, he wondered… “They probably don’t even know who I am… Would they allow me in to see the soldiers?” Not certain of how he might be accepted, he decided it was well worth the trip to try to see them. And maybe they might know who he is. After all, Chopper raised money for the “Wounded Warrior Project” of San Diego earlier this year. 

Chopper (and his human, Mark Shaffer) put those questions and uncertainties behind him and headed for the VA Hospital. After all, these men and women put their lives on the line… the least he could do is to try to visit them and pay his respects.

When Chopper and Mark arrived, they were stopped in the lobby by patients and their families who were excited to see a little dog dressed up as a biker on a motorized bike. Many of them wanted to meet Chopper and take his picture. As they looked at the smiles on the faces of all, Chopper and Mark realized the trip was already successful.

They made their way to the Nurse’s station to present Chopper’s credentials as a therapy dog and to request permission to make a special visit the patients in this unit. The staff welcomed them both with open arms and delayed the visit long enough to all take photos with Chopper.

Then, the proceeded into the ward where they visited with the heroes who, indeed, were happy to have this special surprise visit. There are moments that happen in life when you just know you are doing the right thing. This was one of those moments. “We were amongst heroes,” Shaffer said afterwards. I can’t begin to imagine the horror these brave soldiers have seen and lived through. The feeling of gratitude and appreciation that I feel towards these brave soldiers simply can’t be put into words. So if Chopper was able to bring them a few moments of smiles and affection, it was more satisfying than anything else I might have done on Veteran’s day.”

After spending an hour visiting each patient confined to rooms, Mark and Chopper were escorted to the community room where more patients had gathered to play Bingo. Chopper made the rounds, introducing himself and displaying his gratitude to each one, then noticed a patient confined to a bed. The gentleman, a former navy seal, took an instant liking to Chopper and, together, they played Bingo for about a half hour.

As they drove home, Shaffer and Chopper both felt privileged and honored to have been able to make this visit, and to bring some joy, love and smiles to our veterans.

As I spoke with Mark to get the details of the story, he asked me to convey a very important thought: In truth, we shouldn’t limit our display of gratitude to one day a year, but extend it to 365. He urged me to add that the Veteran’s Administration hospitals have numerous programs for volunteers and they are always “looking for a few good men… and women” willing to return the commitment to these soldiers as a way of saying “thank you” year-round.

I think it’s safe to say that Mark and Chopper will be back there again as well.