Service animals are an indispensable resource for people with disabilities. And countless hours are spent by teams of professionals training these animals – most commonly dogs – to understand dozens of commands, ranging from opening doors to pulling manual wheelchairs and identifying potential hazards – all in service of their owner.
But who trains the trainers?
After observing the beneficial role that donkeys played with helping disabled individuals abroad, Bonnie Bergin returned home to Santa Rosa in 1975, to implement that concept with canines. Shortly thereafter, Bergin founded Canine Companions for Independence in Cotati in an effort to train and connect service dogs to those in need.
When the organization began receiving requests to train more and more people who could then train service dogs, Bergin decided to open the Bergin College of Canine Studies in 1991 as a nonprofit service dog organization. Assistance Dog Institute is also a part of college, but offers a degree after students complete the two-year program.
“When I created the service dog, I created Canine Companions to place the dogs,” Bergin said. “When I got this constant onslaught of people who wanted to learn how to do it – we were the only ones (at that time).”
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