Chopper the Biker Dog, San Diego’s celebrity therapy pup, dies at 12

Chopper the Biker Dog, a Boston terrier trained to comfort the sick, the scared and the scarred — anyone needing a nuzzle, really — died Tuesday at his home in La Mesa after a long illness. He was one month shy of turning 13.

His passing was announced on social media by his human, Mark Shaffer, and prompted an outpouring of grief and support that included a police escort to a pet cemetery in Sorrento Valley, where about two-dozen mourners left flowers, shed tears and shared stories.

“He touched so many people’s lives,” said Gillian Larson, who drove down from Temecula to pay her respects. “He just had a way of cheering you up, sometimes when only a dog could.”

Chopper was born Aug. 3, 2009, in Santa Clarita. At 3 months old he was taken in by Shaffer, a real estate agent and motorcycle enthusiast who was looking to replace another therapy dog ​​that had died a year earlier.

The previous dog, Bandit, had been a hit at various charity functions in San Diego County and beyond, riding around on a remote-control Harley. Shaffer wasn’t sure how Chopper would take to the limelight until they went together to an event with 500 strangers. The terrier fit right in.

Chopper the Biker Dog gave up riding motorcycles due to health setbacks last year, but he continued doing San Diego charity work.

(Courtesy of Mark Shaffer)

“His whole attitude was, ‘If petting me is going to make you happy, go ahead and do it,’” Shaffer said. “He loved everybody. And they loved him.”

When Chopper was 1, he got trained and certified as a therapy dog ​​and began making the rounds. He visited sick kids in hospitals. He comforted police officers recoiling from traumatic calls. He climbed into the beds of terminally ill people taking their final breaths and into the laps of wounded military veterans.

He also showed up regularly at fundraising events, often clad in a handmade biker vest, a bandana and sunglasses, and attracted frequent media attention.

Larson met him at the Reality Rally in Temecula, an annual benefit she runs for Michelle’s Place, a cancer resource center.

“Chopper was there for the first time in 2011, and he came every year after,” Larson said. That includes the one held last month, when the dog was too sick to provide many of his signature “Chopper kisses” to his fans, she said.

He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and anemia in 2019, and liver cancer two years later. His health and quality of life continued to deteriorate. Last weekend, Shaffer decided euthanasia was in order. He made an appointment for a veterinarian to come to the house late Tuesday morning. But Chopper died first, in his sleep. “You are free now,” Shaffer posted on Facebook. “I am lost.”

Chopper the Biker Dog takes photos with well-wishers after a drive-by birthday celebration

Chopper the Biker Dog takes photos with well-wishers after a drive-by birthday celebration for his 11th birthday at Dallas Park in La Mesa on August 2, 2020.

(KC Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The funeral process came together quickly. It took off shortly before noon from Northmont Park, not far from Shaffer’s home. He rode up on his Harley, with Chopper zipped inside a bag on the seat behind him, and fell into line behind two La Mesa motorcycle officers.

They headed out with about 10 private vehicles in tow, their emergency flashers blinking, and a La Mesa police SUV bringing up the rear. Police officers blocked traffic at several intersections as the caravan headed onto state Route 125, state Route 52, Interstate 805 and then to the Sorrento Valley Pet Cemetery & Crematory.

Shaffer got off his motorcycle and carried Chopper into a small chapel. The dog was wrapped in the same blanket used to bring the puppy home from Santa Clarita 12 years ago.

Inside the chapel, Chopper was placed on a table. Shaffer spent several minutes alone there behind the closed door. Then he walked outside and invited people forward.

Some carried flowers or had dogs on leashes as they went inside to see Chopper. Many came out wiping at tears. Others stood in the shade of nearby trees and shared photos they had on their phones of earlier times with the dog, when smiles abounded.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Shaffer said in a short interview later. His eyes brimmed, too. “It hasn’t really sunk in that he’s gone.”

He said Chopper will be cremated and the ashes placed in a wooden box that he will put on a shelf at home.

Chopper's paws during a memorial service Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Chopper’s paws during a memorial service Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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