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When you picture a Harley Davidson cruising down the highway, you probably don’t imagine a leather-clad Boston Terrier in the saddle—but that’s just how Chopper the Biker Dog rolls. Chopper, 8, has been riding with his human, Mark Shaffer, since he was three months old, spreading love and good vibes to those who need it the most. From children’s hospitals to nursing homes, Chopper brings joy in his hometown of San Diego and beyond. We chatted with Mark about how Chopper learned to ride the bike, his work as a therapy dog, and why he’s a true hero.
It all started with Bandit, my first dog who passed away in 2008 from brain cancer. Motorcycles are a big part of my life, and I didn’t know anything about dogs before I got Bandit, but I knew I wanted a companion that was going to enjoy riding my Harley with me. Someone told me Boston Terriers like the wind in their faces so that’s where my search started. After I put Bandit in the saddle bag for the first time, the rest was history. No matter where I went on my bike, Bandit came with me.
In 2009, a year after Bandit died, I worked with the Boston Terrier rescue group in San Diego to find a new puppy safely—no puppy mills, backyard breeders, or anyone interested in puppy profit. After a few months of searching, I was introduced to a couple with three male Boston Terrier puppies. I spent five hours with the puppies, and Chopper and I had the strongest bond.
I introduced Chopper to the bike slowly. When I first met him, I brought t-shirts, goggles, and my saddle bag and simply observed. Would he get scared? Did he growl? He was fine with everything. Then, I turned on my bike to see his reaction. He was comfortable the entire time. That’s how I knew he was a good fit. I also made sure the rides started off slow. Our first trip together was a short one around the neighborhood. Soon enough, I started putting him on the back seat of my Harley with a dog seat that attaches to the harness.
The goggles and helmet I bought. But all of his clothes, bandanas, vests, and t-shirts I make myself. I’ve also used etching paper to make a dog visor from a human-sized visor for his helmet to help keep his eyes protected.
We try to help people however we can. We’re very close to San Diego County law enforcement agencies. There’s one organization called STAR/PAL which helps build relationships between inner-city youth and law enforcement. We assist with their fundraisers, like the celebrity luncheon. Chopper, alongside football players and TV anchors, will cruise around the tables on his motorcycle to collect donations. There’s also our pet therapy work where we visit people in the hospital who need a pick-me-up. Every year we drive to Orange County to visit as many kids as we can in the hospital. No matter what, our main goal is to spread positivity.
We’ve been involved in the San Diego Special Olympics for a few years now. Chopper was invited to be a part of the opening games at the Summer Olympics. He led the teams as they marched and kicked the whole thing off. Then, we started doing special fundraisers with Special Olympics. We helped out with "tip a cop," where different law enforcement agencies wait tables. Chopper was right alongside them on his motorcycle collecting tips to support the cause.
In 2015, I got an email from one of Chopper’s fans saying that his wife’s best friend was dying of cancer, and she only had 30 days to live. He asked what would it take to get Chopper to visit her friend in Kansas City. With Chopper, it’s not always easy to travel because of his little motorcycle. The only way to go a very long distance is by driving. Unfortunately, as hard as I worked to figure out how to get to the woman, she passed away two weeks after I got the call. I felt like I let them down. But, it made me realize there are people outside of San Diego who could benefit from Chopper’s love. So we mapped out a tour covering a bunch of nursing facilities, VA hospitals, and memory care centers all the way up to Eugene, Oregon and back.
We went to Oregon because in 2013, Chopper and I met a woman from Eugene who had been in a horrific car accident. I received a message that said: “There’s someone in the hospital who could really use a visit from you. Can you come?” When people ask for Chopper, I never ask who’s reaching out, or why, because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that if they feel Chopper can help, I want him to be there. So, we went to visit the woman in a local San Diego Hospital, who was still in a coma. As it turns out, her husband was a deputy sheriff with the Eugene Sheriff’s Department and it was the Eugene Sheriff Department’s president that contacted us.
When Chopper and I visited her again a few days later, her brother said she hadn’t been feeling well and that she may not remember us. But, when Chopper rode his motorcycle up to her bed, she suddenly pulled herself up, opened her arms, and said, “Chopper buddy!” The whole room was in tears because they couldn’t believe she remembered. A week later she was ready to be airlifted home, so Chopper and I went back to the hospital with six San Diego police offers to escort her from her room to the airport. After that, I knew I wanted to reunite with this family in Eugene on the Chopper Love Tour.
A friend’s son, Chase, was in a horrific accident in the US Army. He returned from Korea at 22 years old and had sustained traumatic brain injuries. For a year, Chopper and I visited him at least three times a week. One day, after a recent transfer, Chase hadn’t moved for a while. Chopper and I sat next to him trying to engage him. I would say things like: “Give us a thumbs up!” Anything to get him to react. Chopper started licking his face and all of a sudden, Chase’s lips started to move like he was trying to kiss him back. Then his hand moved and his thumb went up! While we can’t say for sure, it felt like he heard what I said, and Chopper helped give him the strength he needed to move. Unfortunately, after a year of struggling, Chase passed away. But Chopper’s visits gave him the support he needed during that time.
We never ask people for money to do what we do, but we have a link on Chopper’s website if anyone wants to donate. Any money we receive goes to the “Chopper Fund” for gas and other supplies we need on our trips. We also always appreciate people following Chopper on Facebook and Instagram.
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