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Sharp Health News

Providing care on all four paws

April 5, 2018

Providing care on all four paws

Copper, with his handler, Sharon Ussery. This Bernese mountain dog is a certified therapy pet at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. He was recently nominated for an international award for his work with patients and guests.

For more than 11 years, Sharon Ussery has helped patients and visitors at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center through the hospital’s Auxiliary and Therapy Pet Program. She currently provides care beyond the bedside by visiting patients with her Bernese mountain dog, Copper.

“When I received my first Bernese mountain dog, Dakota, in 2004, I realized he was special and that I needed to share him with others so I quickly began training him to become a therapy dog,” says Ussery. “After completing testing and certification, I chose Sharp Chula Vista because it gave us the opportunity to support adults in need.”

Seven years later, Copper was born and soon followed in the footsteps of Dakota to provide his furry, unwavering support for patients, visitors, employees and doctors at Sharp Chula Vista. The Therapy Pet Program also grew throughout the years and now consists of six therapy pets — including a Chiweenie and a Great Dane.

Recently, Copper was honored with two Guardian Angel gifts from grateful hospital patients; many patients and family members often share their love for visits from Copper.

“Copper visited me during chemotherapy treatment,” says Natalie C., a former patient at the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center. “I’ll never forget the effect he had on me. He made me forget why I was there.”

The international patient advocacy group Planetree, Inc. also recognized Copper and Sharon for their volunteer work when he was nominated for the Spirit of Planetree Award.

“All of our therapy pets play a vital role in helping patients and their families heal,” says Lisa Golden, manager of volunteer services at Sharp Chula Vista. “Visits from these special volunteers allow patients to forget about their illnesses, even for just a moment, which can mean the world to some. Copper’s award from Planetree exemplifies just how important this program is for the well-being of our patients.”

Sharp HealthCare’s Pet Therapy Program is just one of many Planetree patient-centered care programs offered to patients. A designated Planetree Hospital since 2014, Sharp Chula Vista works to ensure continued excellence in providing treatment that extends well beyond caring for a patient’s ailments and aims to heal the person as a whole.

“Over the past 11 years, it has been both an honor and a privilege to be part of the Sharp Chula Vista team,” says Ussery. “Copper really seems to enjoy and look forward to his visits. We have made many friends over the years, and touched the hearts of many patients, just as they have touched ours.”

For the news media: To talk with Lisa Golden about Sharp Chula Vista’s Therapy Pet Program, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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