Summer is the time for graduations, and it’s only fitting that dogs should get their share of the celebratory spotlight. Ripley and I had the great pleasure this past Saturday of attending graduation ceremonies at Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park.
The ceremony was mainly for the Summer 2015 graduates of the Service Dog Seminar, students who had come from all over to learn about how to train dogs, receiving both general service dog certificates and certificates from the Dogs Helping Veterans Program. We were treated to a wonderful slide show of their summer, spent surrounded by dogs, mastering the skills they will take from here forward.
Some of the students gave demonstrations, to provide a sneak peek into what these dogs are capable of. Duncan Bradley brought out an adorable puppy, about four months old, who sat, laid down, rolled, and then did the most popular command, “Get into my lap.” The puppy was carried off the stage, and spent the remainder of the program being cuddled, coddled, and getting belly rubs, soaking up love from a puppy handler.
When it was time for more mature dogs to take the stage, Meghan Clark appeared with Larry. New research shows that dogs can actually follow a command such as “mimic me.” So Meghan did an unusual behavior (jumping in place), and then waited for Larry to respond. It took him a minute, but he got it, lifting his front legs off the ground in a little hop, much like his handler.
Then Kasey Nash came out with Jordan to show us that dogs can read! She had two signs, one that said “Sit” and one that said “Down.” Whether the dog is responding to the different lengths of the words or exactly what is going on is unclear, but Jordan was, after some initial stage fright, able to perform the appropriate response to the displayed sign.
We also heard an incredibly moving keynote speech from retired Army Colonel Roger Lintz, who talked about how his service dog, Nigel, had transformed his life. This big lab was so lovable looking, and so clearly devoted to Roger, that it was difficult to imagine that the two had ever NOT been together. I spoke to Roger after the ceremony, and we shared some stories about service dogs in hospital rooms, dealing with fake service dogs, and the unbreakable bond we have with these animals. A good, good man, who impressed me immeasurably.
The highlight of the day, though, was the presentation of the service dog recipient. Young Makenna Enger had spent the last two weeks at the Bergin Institute getting to know her new forever-dog, Ming. Those at the institute weren’t sure Ming would connect, as he had had some trouble bonding before. But his attachment to Makenna was immediate. Makenna went up on the stage at the graduation, and said a few words, while Ming was kept off to the side with another handler. When he was finally brought to her, he was practically beside himself with joy. His tail wouldn’t stop wagging. He walked in circles all around her, then finally threw himself at her feet on his back, belly in the air.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Makenna sang the National Anthem with Ming by her side, now looking every bit the distinguished service dog. These two are ready to face the world.
Thank you, Bonnie Bergin, president of Bergin University, for the work that you do.