Animal Hall of Fame

Accident Survivor Brings Home California Animal Hall of Fame Award

Southern California Therapy Dog Provides Kindness and Care

Sacramento, CA — Known for his beautiful brown eyes and compassion for people, Chester, a beloved therapy dog, just joined the California Veterinary Medical Association’s (CVMA) Animal Hall of Fame.

Chester, who is believed to be a 7- or 8-year-old mix of Dachshund and Pomeranian breeds, has befriended thousands of veterans, abused children, psychiatric patients and the elderly in the last four years. Diane Erth, a Pet Encounter Therapy Assistant at Helen Woodward Animal Center and Chester’s partner, says Chester is always willing to offer unconditional love to everyone he meets. “Every day he is eager to jump in the van and go visiting,” said Erth. “All I have to do is pick up his ‘therapy dog’ bandana and he is at the door ready to make people smile.”

Surprisingly, Chester was once neglected, homeless and living on the streets. Valerie Zier-Gonzales of Vista agreed to provide foster care for him after he was struck by a car and abandoned in front of Acacia Veterinary Hospital with bruised ribs and a concussion. “As we drove home, we made eye contact and I realized how special this little dog was — he touched my soul,” said Zier-Gonzales.

Chester earned certification as a pet therapy dog at Helen Woodward Animal Center four years ago. Since then, he has touched the lives of many people who are lonely, scared or in pain.

Erth recalls a time when Chester consoled a patient who was sobbing uncontrollably. “As if he sensed her need for him, Chester walked into the room,” said Erth. “I asked the patient if Chester could sit next to her and, in between sobs, she said yes. The woman allowed Chester to sit in her lap, and she slowly started petting and talking to him. Later, the nurse on staff thanked me for Chester’s visit. She was surprised by how much Chester helped the patient because the staff was unable to calm her.”

The California Animal Hall of Fame award celebrates companion and working animals in California and the veterinarians who care for them. Animals that are considered for this award have performed exceptional deeds under exceptional circumstances. Their actions clearly demonstrate the special bond between people and animals. Chester received his award at CVMA’s annual conference in San Francisco on June 27. 

“This year’s California Animal Hall of Fame award winner exemplifies the human-animal bond at its best,” said Dr. Jeff Smith, president of the CVMA. “The CVMA was honored to induct Chester into the California Animal Hall of Fame for his goodwill, loyalty and compassion.”

For media interviews or for more information about Chester, please contact Phil Boerner at the CVMA: 916-649-0599. To access past CVMA press releases, visit the CVMA Media Center in the News Room at


The California Veterinary Medical Association is the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States, with more than 6,000 members.  Founded in 1888, its mission is to serve its membership and community through innovative leadership and to improve animal and human health in an ethically and socially responsible manner.

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