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.