Paws for Purple Hearts


My guest today is all about helping others. She’s got such a big heart and it comes through in the way she tells the stories of her work and the birth of her passion. Bonnie Bergin is the CEO of Paws for Purple Hearts, a non-profit that trains and matches services dogs with veterans.

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Bonnie Bergin is the inventor of the current day service dog. Through her world travels working as a teacher in other countries, Bonnie witnessed how other countries treated their physically disabled people differently than here in the U.S. at the time. She saw that the expectation in other countries, especially the Asian countries were that their disabled people were more likely to be actively participating in society whereas, at the time, physically disabled people were often being cared for by others here in the U.S. (either in-home care or hospital care). Bonnie didn’t know how, but she wanted to change that. Somewhere in her travels she witnessed donkeys helping physically disabled people get work done. Bonnie imagined that dogs could help people in similar ways in the U.S. She had no experience in dog training, but she felt in her heart that it would not be unreasonable to think dogs could be trained to help physically disabled people in their day to day tasks. Hence, the birth of what we know today as the “service dog”.

When Bonnie began to train dogs, she set out to do it differently than the norm of the time. She was a teacher and implemented positive reinforcement as she did with her students rather than the standard “aversive” trainings using choke chains and hitting the dog. Bonnie started with wanting to connect with the local disabled population. She reached out to the office of Disabled Service in Santa Rosa California and found her first client/trainee. Her name is Carrie – she was a quadriplegic with very physically limiting circumstances. Carrie volunteered to let Bonnie train the first dog to help her. (You can hear the full story in the podcast). Bonnie has since developed Bergin University of Canine Studies which offers both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Canine Studies.

Paws for Purple Hearts was started in 2006. Bonnie set out to develop a program that provides well-trained service dogs to our veterans with either physical or emotional limitations, such a PTSD, that prevent them from being able to function fully in their life. In the case of physical limitations, the dogs function as a helper, they can turn on light switches, pick up the remotes or their phones, and even retrieve their lunch from the fridge. In the case of their clients with PTSD, the dogs help the client sleep better, feel capable of leaving their home to venture into the community when they may have previously chosen to be socially isolated, relieve depression symptoms through the camaraderie they feel with their dog. The dogs are trained by hospitalized veterans. Bonnie says that it gives those patients a sense of meaning and purpose again while they are working on living with their physical setbacks.

Follow this link to read the rest of the article and listen to Bonnie Bergin speaking about Paws for Purple Hearts at

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