Beyond the Boardroom

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Bonnie Bergin

Author: Mallorie Kerrigan
November, 2017 Issue

Bonnie Bergin is the founder of Canine Companions for Independence as well as founder, president and chief academic officer of Bergin University of Canine Studies, founded in 1991. She originated the concept of the service dog in 1975 and educates both humans and canines to change the world by helping people live more independent lives.

Bergin was born in Washington, but considers herself a North Bay native. “My family moved to Cloverdale when I was two years old, and I spent my childhood between there and Willits,” she says. She and her husband, Jim, have been married for more than 50 years. They live on their ranch in Santa Rosa with three dogs, a rescue cat and nine American Bashkir Curley horses.
What got you interested in a career in canine companionship?
We always had dogs growing up, but my professional interest and passion for working with dogs to help people was sparked during my time in the masters program in special education at Sonoma State

What’s one of your hobbies?
Mowing acres of weeds together with my husband. I ride an 18-horsepower tractor, and he’s on a 40-horsepower. Mine is a John Deere, and his is only a Kubota.
Would you rather explore a new planet, or the deepest parts of the ocean?
I have a fear of flying so I’m not eager to visit a new planet. I did go down into the ocean in a mini-submarine once and learned that without sunlight, there’s no color in the deepest parts of the ocean. Knowing there are species in its depths we’ve yet to discover fascinates me. 
When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush? Having that sudden surge of strength to un-jam and lift my 60-pound Labrador off the top of the six-foot cyclone fence gate. She tried to jump/climb over it. Her leg was caught in the scroll.
If you could be a contestant on any game show, which would it be? “American Idol.” Only problem is I cant carry a tune.
What was the happiest era of your life?
Now! After 50 years of marriage—my husband and I are comfortable together. I have great staff and students at Bergin University with the service dog concept worldwide. These are the “good ol’ days.” 
Are you more of a rule breaker or a rule keeper?
Rule keeper, unless the rules are unreasonable. Innovation often requires coloring outside the lines. 
What are your three favorite albums? Elvis, the Eagles and the Carpenters—all “Greatest Hits.” 
What’s your favorite holiday?
Christmas because of the family gathering at our home.
What words of wisdom would you pass on to your childhood self?
I was extremely shy. It prevents good communication and clarification. People mistakenly interpret what you mean. It’s wasteful. 
What’s your fondest childhood memory?
Driving to Ukiah (from Willits) with my mom to take our family dog, Sport, to dog training classes. 
If you could take three items with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
My husband, my animals, food (and matches).
What’s your most prized or sentimental possession?
My husband, although he says he’s not a possession. He is definitely prized.
Do you feed your dogs leftovers from your dinner plate?
I don’t. My husband does. The dogs know the difference, so I wouldn’t take dinner plates to the island.
[Duncan Garrett Photography]



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