It was as if the wind had been knocked out of Sharon Ussery after she lost Dakota, her 110-pound Bernese mountain dog and longtime therapy pet at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, to bone cancer.
"It was the most heart-wrenching time of my life," Ussery struggled to recall. "Dakota was my gentle giant and together we brought so much joy to patients."
For five years, Ussery and Dakota, Sharp Chula Vista's first therapy pet, visited countless patients at the hospital, many of whom found comfort in the reminder of their own pet at home. After Dakota passed away, Ussery wasn't the only one who struggled with his absence. Staff, fellow volunteers and even physicians eagerly awaited Dakota's visits to brighten their days; when they no longer came, a hole was created in their hearts as it was in Ussery's.
"Dealing with my loss was difficult, but I knew I still had a lot of love to give," Ussery said. "Also, I felt my time as a pet therapy volunteer wasn't finished."
Enter Copper, the tiny puppy and spitting image of his big brother. He arrived in the Ussery home five months before Dakota's passing and the two were fast friends, although sadly only for a short while. After nearly two years of rigorous training — Ussery playfully laments her dog's goofball tendencies — Copper earned his therapy pet certification on March 12, 2013, and began visiting patients at Sharp Chula Vista, picking up where Dakota left off.
"Every time I see Copper, I think of Dakota and how proud he would be that Copper is continuing his legacy of making a positive difference for patients," said Lisa Golden, volunteer services manager at Sharp Chula Vista. "It's a sweet continuation of life."
For More Information
Ussery and Copper currently visit patients at Sharp Chula Vista and the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center twice a week. If you are a patient and would like to request a visit, or if you're interested in becoming a pet therapy volunteer, please contact Lisa Golden, Volunteer Services, at 619-502-3606.