The injured U.S. Marine Corps veteran was not able to speak, but his eyes showed clear recognition when his best friend — a 5-year-old Chihuahua mix named Pepper — was led into his Santa Maria hospital room.
Pepper also doubles as a service dog for Anthony Pearson, a 68-year-old Santa Maria resident who last week was still recovering from severe injuries he suffered when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bicycle Feb. 28 near North Broadway and Roemer Way.
Pepper’s visit to Marian Regional Medical Center was just what the doctor ordered — literally — since a surgeon had to green-light the much-needed reunion facilitated by Santa Barbara County Animal Services.
Pearson hadn’t seen his dog since that rainy night two weeks before.
Reunions of owners and pets are typical at the shelter, but those within the walls of a hospital are far less common, according to Animal Control Officer Geoff Clinton, who made the visit happen in hopes that Pearson’s mental health could improve along the lines of his slow, physical recovery.
“Originally they were saying they didn’t think he was going to make it,” Clinton said of Pearson. “That’s the first time we’ve done something like that. I was happy that we were able to bring the dog over there. Pearson certainly must’ve been frightened.”
Pepper, who helps alert Pearson because he has hearing issues, was with Pearson when he was hit but, amazingly, was not injured during the collision, which is still under investigation.
Authorities are following up leads to find who struck a helmet-less Pearson about 11 p.m. as he traveled southbound on Broadway near Roemer Way. Santa Maria police traffic Sgt. Daniel Rios said the suspect vehicle is likely a small or midsized sedan that was weaving onto the shoulder.
County Animal Services stepped in after the crash to care for Pepper and Pearson’s 5-year-old cat, Queenie, a typical practice after such an event, according to Rios.
“We always do what we can to secure them and obviously get them reunited with family members,” he said.
A recovering Pearson has since been transported to a veterans hospital in Los Angeles while animal services secures temporary foster homes for his pets — possibly closer to the new hospital — until Pearson can care for them again.
In the meantime, Clinton said he was encouraged by the service dog visit because it seemed to serve its purpose.
Pearson had been alert and mouthing silent words to an occupational therapist, who was able to relay the message that his pets were both OK.
Click here for more information about Santa Barbara County Animal Services, or call the Santa Maria office at 805.934.6119.