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SCV loses valuable volunteer

Jettster passes away after 10 years of service

Posted: February 23, 2009 1:12 a.m.
Updated: February 23, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Jett visits young patients. Jett and owner Myke Schwartz went through a certification program where Jett was evaluated, certified and insured to become a therapy dog as part of the Pet Therapy program whos focal purpose is visiting patients.

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On December 25, 2008 - Jett's last birthday - Jett trotted into the bustling Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Emergency Room. Jett instantly spotted a sick and scared looking 3-year-old sitting on his dad's lap in the waiting room. The child's eyes lit up at the sight of Jett. The dog went straight to the boy and put his big head on the 3-year-old's lap. In that moment all fear was forgotten.

The Santa Clarita Valley is not as bright these days without its miracle dog, Jettster.

The Greater Swiss Mountain dog, better known as a "Swissie," spent 10 of 11 years of his life working hard as a volunteer in the Santa Clarita Valley.

How can a dog do volunteer work? With his dedicated guardian, Myke Schwartz, it was possible.

Santa Clarita Valley "adrenaline junkie," Schwartz spends his life skydiving and riding motorcycles as a stunt coordinator and balances it by volunteering.

His six year service in the military first sparked his interest over a decade ago to volunteer at the Veterans hospital. As Schwartz walked through the wards, he noticed many of the depressed veterans had pictures of their dogs next to their beds.

Schwartz decided to bring his dog at the time, Lucy (a Great Dane), to visit the veterans in hopes of cheering them up.

A few years later, Schwartz heard about Swissies and was instantly intrigued. The breed is rare; just about 100 puppies are born each year. He flew out to the east coast to meet a breeder and was introduced to his soon-to-be best friend, Jett, whose name was inspired by Schwartz's cross-country flight.

"He was everything I imagined and more - beautiful, protective, and obedient," Schwartz said.

Jett and Schwartz went through a certification program where Jett was evaluated, certified and insured to become a therapy dog as part of the Pet Therapy program whose focal purpose is visiting patients.

Jett was trained specifically to behave in a manner appropriate for hospital visits. He knew to avoid IV lines, sit up politely in chairs next to patients in beds, and to never lick, slobber or bark (except on command.)

"Jett never wore a leash, he was always within 3 feet of me. He only wore one when he was ‘working,' but usually carried it in his mouth," Schwartz said.

Though Pet Therapy is intended for patients, the hospital employees received equally positive benefits from Jett and the program.

"A lot of times the hospital staff would be relieved to take a break to pet Jett and talk a bit about their own dog," Schwartz said.

Schwartz whole-heartedly devoted himself to volunteering with Jett to do work at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, The Veterans Hospital, adult day care centers, nursing homes, the SCV Battered Women's Shelter and others.

"Jett did not pay attention to age or physical ability, but accepted people as they were. He brightened the days of patients of every age and the benefits continued after the visit. When patients stroked Jett, their heart monitors slowed and relief overflowed in the room," Schwartz said.

Just walking down the hall, people would respond to Jett. Children ran up to pet him and stressed adults were given a break from their dark reality. Schwartz carried a Polaroid camera to take pictures of Jett and the patients as a parting gift for patients to remember the experience.

"Jett's therapy was an instant gratification for everyone. It was so much more rewarding than writing a check or donating a car to charity," Schwartz said.

Jett was a distraction from pain and sickness. He broke the ice and was able to create a moment of happiness in a place where fear and illness were the prevailing normality.

Schwartz has been stopped on the streets numerous times by family members of patients who have passed wanting to tell him how Jett brightened the last few days of their loved one's life.

Last week, Jett was put down at age 11 to end his suffering from the arthritis in his back. His life was long and full; he traveled across the country with Schwartz, flew in airplanes, rode motorcycles, and swam in great lakes.

His contribution to this world is one most people could only wish they were capable of.

"Jett was my family. He changed my life by introducing me to so many people I would have never met otherwise," Schwartz said.

Jett was cremated and will go on his final car ride with Schwartz. His ashes will be spread in his favorite places.

"With so much sickness in the world, it's easy to lose hope. Jett was a miracle dog. He brought healing and happiness everywhere he went," Schwartz said.

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