(Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 27--Corey Hudson did not conceive the idea of training gentle dogs to perform simple, daily functions that might profoundly enhance the lives of people without use of their arms and/or legs.
But Hudson certainly has run with it. Since 1990, the former teacher and state-hospital administrator has toiled happily as top dog at Santa Rosa-based Canine Companions for Independence.
Under Hudson's leadership, the agency's training of Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers and Lab/Goldens as service animals has grown tremendously and spread to injured combat veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Hudson has advanced the vision of Bonnie Bergin, another ex-Sonoma County schoolteacher who is thought to be the first person to build on the concept of the guide-dog for blind people, teaching dogs to pick up dropped items, flip light switches and tug a person in a wheelchair.
Bergin created Canine Companions for Independence on a puppy-chewed shoestring in Santa Rosa in 1975. She moved on in 1991 and is now founder-president of Bergin University of Canine Studies and The Assistance Dog Institute in Rohnert Park.
Hudson succeeded Bergin at the helm and now prepares to pass the leash. He soon will turn 70, upwards of 400 in dog years.
"It's hard to give it up," he said.
Canine Companions now collects and spends $19 million a year raising and training dogs that assist, safeguard and charm the lives of humans with physical limitations and special needs.
His job as CEO involves directing the nonprofit that operates five regional training centers across the country, each year sending into the world about 260 teams comprised of one dog and one person likely to live far more fully with the aid and friendship of a dog.
As he prepares to retire, Hudson oversees plans for the creation of a sixth training center. Baylor Scott & White Health, a large nonprofit healthcare system in Texas, is so supportive of the program that it will build and pay to staff a new Canine Companions center in Houston.
Hudson hopes it will help training efforts move closer to catching up with nationwide demand.
"There are a lot of people on our waiting list," he said. "We need to do a bigger, better job with that."
The Vietnam-era Navy veteran tells of feeling grateful to have stumbled onto Canine Companions in the midst of his career. He worked decades ago as a student teacher at Rincon Valley Middle School while earning four teaching credentials and a Masters in Education from Sonoma State University.
Hudson became a special-ed teacher but soon switched to creating and operating programs at state hospitals or developmental centers.
He worked as hospital administrator at Agnews Developmental Center in San Jose, then clinical director at Porterville State Hospital, then as an executive with several areas of responsibility at Sonoma Developmental Center.
Since he hired on at Canine Companions, the agency has built and expanded the national headquarters and Northwest training center on Santa Rosa's Dutton Avenue. All of its puppies are raised in this area, and Hudson recommends the live puppy cam that's easy to access through cci.org.
Also during his tenure, the organization has expanded the tasks for which it raises and trains dogs.
Beyond providing service dogs and training, at no cost, to physically disabled adults, the agency trains dogs to alert deaf people to sounds such as knocks at the door or approaching sirens; to act as companions and aides to children and adults with intellectual disorders such as autism and Down syndrome; and to provide assistance and comfort at facilities such as hospitals, rehab/treatment centers and schools.
Hudson's own military experiences fed his yearning to help veterans who have lost mobility to combat. Canine Companions has teamed with retailer PetSmart in the Wounded Veterans Initiative, which has provided more than 100 service dogs to men and women who returned from Afghanistan or Iraq with spinal-cord injuries, amputations or deafness.
Hudson also has championed efforts to counteract a trend in which increasing numbers of dog owners dishonestly fasten "Service Dog" vests onto their pets so they can take them onto buses and into restaurants, shops and other areas off-limits to all animals except trained service dogs.
"They believe their loving, wonderful dog deserves to be with them every moment of the day," Hudson told a reporter earlier this year.
Among the problems is that the pets can physically threaten true service dogs, and the poor behavior of pets being masqueraded as service dogs can cause true service dogs and their humans to be viewed with suspicion.
Hudson isn't quite sure when his last day at Canine Companions will be. The process of choosing his successor has begun.
"My target is to be retired by the holidays," he said. The father of two is eager to hang out more with his 3-year-old grandson, Max. And several years after the passing of Molly, a Cairn terrier, he and his wife, Kathy, are the lookout for a new four-legged head of the household.
Hudson said he's proud of what the agency does and is delighted that myriad emulating service-dog agencies have sprung up around the world.
The dogs they train alert humans to dropping blood-sugar levels, or to the presence of potentially lethal allergens such as peanuts. Others provide comfort and service to veterans who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, awakening them from night terrors and interrupting harmful behavior.
Approaching retirement, Hudson is a man happy to have seen his career go the dogs.
"They're amazing," he said. "Dogs work in so many ways, and there's so much more to be learned."
(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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