Volunteer Spotlight: Mike Copper and his Four-Legged Friend, Sydney

Posted on April 14th, 2020

Pulling out both his and Sydney’s CASA certification badges and waving them to the woman sitting behind the desk, Mike Copper is stunned by the look of confusion on the residential living center employee’s face. Politely informing him that pets are not allowed on the premises of the treatment center, the woman says she can not allow them to enter.

Mike looks at his therapy dog’s face with amusement and says, “Oh Sydney is no normal dog. She is as much of an advocate as I am, maybe even more so.”

After further discussion, the two agree that the woman would send for Tony, the young foster child that Mike and Sydney were there to see, so that they may have their visit on the front lawn. A few short minutes later, Mike hears the squeaky opening of a nearby door and Sydney darts in the direction of a 9-year-old boy entering the front lobby.

Seeing the excitement on her face as her tongue rolls out of her mouth mid run, Tony too burst into a sprint in the dog’s direction. They collide in the middle, falling to the ground in a fit of hugs and doggy kisses. A carefree laugh rings off Tony’s lips and the once timid, introverted boy traumatized from the seven foster placements he has experienced within the last nine years fades away, now replaced with the youthful grin of an innocent boy.

Mike turns to look at the woman once more and joyfully says, “Like I said, she is the advocate, I’m just her sidekick.”

After dedicating many years of his life to working with children in the education system, Mike Copper would not allow retirement to keep him from serving the children of his community. Just eight short years after withdrawing from the Indianapolis public school system, Mike found his way to Child Advocates.

Almost immediately after retiring, Mike began training his furry friend, Sydney, to become R.E.A.D. (reading education assistance dog) certified and together they volunteered at local schools, assisting children with lower reading performances and behavioral issues. While this experience was rewarding, it also refueled his passion for working with children, and he knew he wanted to do more.

After doing some research online, Mike discovered Child Advocates and instantly connected with the organization’s mission to protect and advocate for central Indiana’s most vulnerable youth.

“Following forty-plus years in public education, continuing to serve children through Child Advocates was a perfect link for me.”

Despite his extensive experience working with young people and his deep understanding of the public school system, Mike credits Sydney as being the true advocate.

“My therapy dog, Sydney, is the real star of this effort as she models unconditional love for those less fortunate.”

Whether children are reading to her, rolling around on the floor playing with her, or just accepting the unconditional love she willing gives, children are gaining confidence in themselves as well as a deeper understanding of loving relationships through the bonds they form with Sydney.

“All of the children I have worked with have responded positively to her. They want to be with her as much as she wants to be with them, so they will do whatever they need to do to earn some one on one time with her.”

Mike sees the unequivocal value in his therapy dog’s involvement with children in the child welfare system, and encourages other organizations to consider incorporating therapy animals into their programs.

“Sydney offers unbridled love, for children especially, without any bias or preconceived notions about behaviors or attitudes. It’s a great lesson for me as well as everyone else.”

Mike plans to continue serving children experiencing abuse and/or neglect for years to come and knows that he cannot fail as long as he has Sydney by his side.