Assistance dogs can change a person’s life forever. Once a person is matched with a dog, from that moment on, his or life will never be the same.
Bergin University of Canine Studies in Penngrove assists in such assistance dog match-ups, placing service dogs for people with physical disabilities, service dogs for military Veterans with PTSD or combat-related injuries, and facility, and animal assisted therapy dogs. All of these assistance dogs go on to become a forever companion to those who greatly benefit from the special skills and training the dogs learn at Bergin.
There is a lot of joy emanating from this special bond between canines and humans. Watching a service dog tug open a door for his or her person who is in a wheelchair or watching a facility dog deliver compassion and comfort to a child experiencing a panic attack at school illicit awe and warm the heart. There’s a deep and immediate sense of how these dogs are changing the person’s life.
For students, staff, and volunteers at Bergin University, the two weeks of client training — where humans and dogs become incredible teams — are what they’ve been preparing for. The associate students at Bergin University prep training practices and teach over 100 commands. They must review the 11 lectures they will present to the clients who come to Bergin to receive their forever canine companions. The Bergin students continuously support one another and share advice as they count down the days until the clients arrive.
Urijah, a fun-loving black Lab, was eagerly waiting to meet his person. His person, Shannon, was also anxiously waiting to see who her dog would be. On day three of client training, Urijah was officially matched with Shannon.
Shannon is what Bergin calls a “successor” client, meaning she has received a dog from Bergin University in the past. At this time, she was ready for another canine companion to help her with everyday tasks. Shannon and Urijah worked diligently and graduated from client training as a successful team ready to start their lives together.
“Urijah is an extension of me. I feel incomplete without him by my side. I start every sentence with ‘we’ or ‘excuse us.’ I have always been an independent person but feel even stronger and more confident next to him,” Shannon said. “From the first day, we were on the same wavelength and that increases every day.”
Shannon explained how Urijah, who helps with many daily tasks, left her speechless. “The other day I was reclined in my wheelchair watching TV. Urijah was asleep beside me in his bed when I accidently dropped the remote. He popped up. I said, ‘get it,’ and he picked it up and handed it to my left hand; I dropped it. He picked it up again and went to my other side and handed it to my right hand; I dropped it again. He picked it up a third time, came in front of me, put his front paws on my lap and dropped it. He then went back to his bed. He did all of this with one ‘get it’ command.”
Shannon and Urijah enjoy going to San Francisco for plays and the ballet. Urijah is a pro on BART. “He sits between me and the train wall and doesn’t move until I turn my wheelchair on, which is the signal that our stop is approaching,” she said. On the platform and in crowds Urijah stays just ahead of Shannon and bumps her legs when necessary to make room. Shannon said, “He is a very sweet dog; he is very focused with his vest on and is an extremely reliable companion.”
Bergin typically has two client trainings a year where one dog — or five dogs — might graduate. Numbers change, depending on what level the dogs are at in their training and what type of clients are available to make the best lifetime matches possible. Bergin University of Canine Studies continues to focus on assistance dog education and canine studies supporting students through its associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees and continues to train and place service dogs. Visit Berginu.edu and explore all things education and dogs.
Hannah Moodie is a faculty member and an alum of Bergin University. She graduated from the associates degree program in 2015 and works as the client services program manager for Bergin and its sister organization, Paws for Purple Hearts. She also teaches two classes at Bergin for the associates students. “This was my first year teaching and my first year being a part of client training since becoming a part of the Client program, so it was an incredibly rewarding and exciting year for me,” she said. Originally from Madison, Wisc., she moved to California five years ago to attend Bergin. She enjoys spending time with her boyfriend and their black lab, Ono, who was a released dog from Bergin.
Above: Shannon and Urijah were paired up.
Main article photo by: Photo by Sheri Reick, courtesy Bergin University of Canine Studies