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A unique university for dogs: Bergin University makes Hatchery and Green Mill buildings its new home

  • Matt Decker and his dog Larsen. Robert Grant

  • Bergin Institute's Zola showed off some of the early basic learning exercises under the direction of Elise Keyfauver as part of the graduation ceremony Saturday held at Technology Middle School. Robert Grant

By: Irene Hilsendager
July 27, 2018

An age-old question… How was the once great restaurant at the Green Mill turned into a pioneering university for service dogs for veterans and people with disabilities?

History of the Green Mill

At 10201 Old Redwood Highway stands an unoccupied green building that was known for many years as a restaurant with good chefs, bartenders and a great couple that owned the property --0Vincent and Rose Dell’Osso.

Vincent was born in Lucca, Italy, coming to the United States in the late 40s when he was 21-years-old.

For six years Dell’Osso was a chef at San Francisco’s famous eatery, Original Joe’s. He then became chef and part owner of Westlake Joe’s. Vincent sold his interest in the business in August of 1968. He then went on to have one of the grandest of openings in December of 1968 in San Mateo. It was one of the biggest and newest restaurants in Northern California called Dell’Osso’s of San Mateo. After several years, it was apparent that the Dell’Osso’s had to give up on San Mateo. With some soul searching and visiting Sonoma County several times, they finally settled on the Green Mill.

Vincent bought the Green Mill in 1973 and said in 15 months he had paid for the property lock stock and barrel, including an additional 10 adjoining acres. Yes, business was booming. The mill had seating for up to 500 people and had a generous bar. At one time Dell’Osso had 60 employees. 

The Mill was known for good food in a country setting. What is not known is that the Green Mill first operated as a chicken and dumpling roadhouse by a Mrs. Hubbard, featuring lunches and dinners for 50 to 75 cents in the early 30s. Now some old timers say that this happened in the 20s but others insist the 30s -- it just depends who you talk too. 

The story goes that a Mr. Sherrer, a carpenter, built the Green Mill and tower and sold the inn, in the late 30s, to a Captain Schlette and who in turn sold it to Jules and Tony Fisher, two Swiss born brothers who operated it with good success from 1946 to 1966. A woman from San Francisco then purchased it in 1966 and thought she could get upper “class” from the city to spend the time in the country of Sonoma County. She evidently ignored the “regulars” and ran the business into the ground in one year, forcing Jules Fisher to take it back. For six months Fisher tried to rebuild but with no success-no smorgasbord. Fisher then brought back the “smorgie” and business was back to normal. Even after Dell’Osso and Biancalana purchased the inn, they kept Jules on for six more months.

In 1995, Jeff Cox, food critic, said the Green Mill was an interesting 1930s style building with oodles of room. The food is fair for the old-fashioned, with steak, prime and lobster combos and of course, the prices were reasonable. Vince described his food as continental with an Italian flavor.

Everybody that has lived in Sonoma County for a length of time will remember the banquets and smorgasbords, the banquet facilities handled up to 300 hundred people daily. The inn was huge with eight dining areas. 

Many patrons remember the pickled pigs’ feet, pate and fine pickled herring in sour cream; in 1973 a special was added to their nightly menu-a green Mill special steak for $4.95.

In September of 1991, four partners acquired the restaurant. Six months later, Henderson and Robert Kellogg bought two of the partners Yves and Helga Larguinat out. They remodeled but were overcome by money problems. Henderson and Kellogg filed for bankruptcy. Much money was due to creditors including Dell’Osso. In 1993 Vincent again took possession of the property. 

During the 1980s the cities of Petaluma and Rohnert Park granted historical landmark status to the restaurant signs along Highway 101. 

When asked why the Green Mill could not be opened into an interesting restaurant once again, the answer was it would be too costly to get any permits since any building that is closed for more then two years needs permits to re-open. Could you imagine the crowds coming back, but alas, Dell’Osso would not be at the door to greet the customers.

A new chapter goes to the dogs

And now instead of seeing feet cross the doors of Green Mill, paws will be a new regular sight for the building’s next chapter. 

It has now been purchased by Bonnie and Jim Bergin, of the famous Bergin University of Canine Studies. The Bergin University is the first and only program in the world that focuses on training dogs and learning about dogs. The university is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent College and Schools and students come from all over the world and graduates leave the school equipped with the knowledge to teach or start their own organization. The students have to be dual accredited and have a master’s degree or a doctorate bachelor in dog handling. Most of the trainees must be in the field and not just teaching the tricks of the trade. The Bergin University of Canine studies provides a greater variety of degrees. 

At the present time they are housed in the Penngrove Hatchery Building on Hatchery Road in Penngrove until the County of Sonoma’s Planning Commission gives the Bergin’s their permit to start remodeling the Old Green Mill. Shortly before Bonnie signed the closure papers, the Green Mill was severely pillaged by vandals. 

Defacing a building is one thing but to cut down beams and structured posts, is almost incomprehensible…even the brass footrest in front of the beautiful polished bar was stolen and probably sold. The vandalism compromised the building’s structure and until a contractor gets in there to really assess the damage, no one knows if the edifice can be saved or if a new building will have to be constructed. Bonnie is even thinking of pulling modules onto the Green Mill property sometime in August so classes will continue. Since this is a summer semester, the classes are much smaller. 

However, during normal class times, enrollment for her doggie university can be as high as 50 dogs for service dog training.

During the interview and watching instructors training dogs and students, who are mostly veterans in need of a support dog, Shannon Whitney with dog, Urijah, from Castro Valley and Garrett Van Brenk with Oriole from Portland, Oregon, were taught along with their dogs how to enter and ride a bus. 

In addition to training handlers and their dogs, Bergin also has plans to visit local schools. 

Previously, the dogs have visited the North County jail where they work in dentition facilities to decrease repeat offenders

Bergin has even trained dogs to sniff out pests in vineyards. 

Currently, the university is researching concepts in teaching dogs to sense when a diabetic’s blood sugar is low. They also go to the mental ward and reach out to veterans; especially those that have PTSD or brain injuries, those in wheelchairs or amputees. There are free dog classes and therapy sessions - no one is turned away. The school offers classes from genetics to behavior, nutrition and dogs in general. Students also train dogs at local animal shelters; such as the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter.

Who is a good boy? These dogs are

The university’s most recent master’s and seminar graduates include; Valerie Skinner, William Spinrad, Denise Agosti, Debbie Zastrow Yanagida, Veronica Fraser, Andrea Celeste, Taylor Eastman, Elise Keyfauver, Allyson Wilcox, Ania Flatau, Susan Anderson, Ying Lu and Roger Giese. The three graduates receiving a Master of Science Degree in Human-Canine life Sciences were Kristen Cardenas, Rodger Thomason and Emily Martinez. The ceremony was held July 21 at the Technology Middle School multi-use room.

But before the dogs can graduate, they are bred on site and start their training at three to four-weeks old and work with them for up to two years of age to learn 106 different commands. After graduation, the canines may be placed to work with paraplegic or quadriplegic people or others that have emotional for physical disabilities. These people get on a waitlist and are provided their animals at a lower cost as the cost to train a dog at Bergin University is close to $25,000.

A temporary home

Until the Green Mill is revitalized, Penngrove Hatchery will be the home for Bergin U and the hatchery itself is a beautiful building. This particular building was not constructed until 1927 when McCarter bought what was then a part of the Rancho Cotati Subdivision No. 1 from Thomas and Hedvig Hedin since it was so closely situated near a major highway it made it convenient to truck in eggs and ship out chicks. When McCarter sold the property in 1944, the hatchery had a laying capacity of 360,000 eggs at a setting. During the 1990s, the Penngrove Hatchery was owned by Benson Investments and was an empty shell of a building for many years when Petaluma building contractors Dave Martin and Jim Nelson bought it in 2003. But alas, it was sold again in 2005. The Palms of Jay Palm’s Saddle Shop occupied the building for a few years sold the property again and at press time, Becky Schaboya was the new owner.

But since the Bergin’s purchased the old Green Mill, Bonnie knows exactly what she wants to do with the property. She has dreams of acreage with a creek running through it and much land for the dogs and students to take walks and roam through the trees. The animals are well trained so the neighbors really don’t have to worry about barking dogs since the students take their dogs home each evening.