Who We Are
Anne Wolff Nichols
Anne has been drawn to animals, especially dogs, since early childhood. She knew she would work with animals and be a trainer of dogs. In 1976 at age 14, she acquired her first dog, a cocker spaniel, and went forward with training. A UD title followed as well as a personal and professional career training dogs. Anne is also a professional dog photographer.
In 1982, Anne’s dream of having a Bernese Mountain Dog came true when Moonshadow's Nighttime Mika CDX joined her in life. Despite having severe hip and elbow dysplasia by 6 months of age with significant arthritis already, Mika’s heart was big and her willingness to connect was strong. Anne felt a deep commitment to the breed emerging. Additionally, Mika helped Anne form her training methodology: to work with a dog, not against it.
Anne’s professional experience is varied. In 1996, she passed written, oral, and practical California state boards to train Guide Dogs. She has also presented seminars nationally to owners, trainers, boarding kennels, and vet clinics on developing a connected relationship with dogs, early puppy training, correctly reading dogs, and safe handling of unknown dogs. And she has done extensive one-on-one training in people’s homes to help them develop a mutually satisfying relationship with their dog. Anne has trained dogs in competitive obedience,conformation, rally, hunting, herding, agility, schutzhund, and drafting.
Personally, Anne has achieved many accolades with her own dogs:
- Number one BMDs in country in obedience with multiple dogs (many of Anne’s own breeding)
- Multiple high in trials in obedience
- High in trial at BMD National (score of 198.5)
- Many group winning and placing dogs of her own breeding, and always handled by Anne
- Group placements from the classes with multiple dogs
- Winner’s Dog at multiple specialties
- Award of Merit at specialties
- Bred by Exhibitor Best in Show
- Multiple Best in Veteran Sweeps
- Owner handled Best in Show with Delsin at almost 9 years of age (he remains the oldest BMD to win an all breed best in show)
Despite all her successes, Anne’s most important goal has always been an intelligent, healthy dog that has a very high quality of life and that will connect deeply.
But there was a two-edged sword in developing a deep relationship with a breed that dies young: the heart gets broken in unfathomable ways. The tipping point came in 2006 when her true soulmate, K’dar, developed cancer and died just under 8 years of age. That just about killed Anne, but when K’dar’s son could not mount a defense against tick diseases and died at 5.5 years of age, Anne thought that really was it. But then 8 year old Jyoti—a dog with so much life, energy, soundness, love, and unequaled skill—developed cancer and died 6 months later. This was not the way that having a dog in ones life was suppose to be.
Over the years, Anne had started many conversations about outcrossing the BMD to regain some health and longevity in the breed. She had intuitively felt that the closed stud book form of breeding was not a healthy way in the long run to breed dogs. In 2015, fueled by the recent, young death of Jyoti, Anne pursued more active conversations. Those conversations led her to other people who had the same thoughts: outcrossing needed to be happen to see if this failing breed could be helped.
With courage and conviction, Anne, Kathy, and Steve came together, pledging to do what it takes to help a desperate breed that we all intensely love. The BMD Vitality Project was born.
Kathy Berge DVM
Kathy first became interested in the Bernese Mountain Dog in 1984. She had raised and trained a lab for Guide Dogs for the Blind and was interested in getting into purebred dog sports. She read The Right Dog for You and visited the Golden Gate Kennel Club benched show where she first met Barbara Packard, a force in BMD health in the 80s. Kathy has been a strong supporter of the BernerGarde Foundation and Berner health initiative ever since.
Kathy's first Berner, "Ahquabi's Raven von Bauernhof", was purchased in Wisconsin, and supported Kathy through veterinary school at Iowa State, the purchase of her veterinary practice, and the birth of her first child. Raven also introduced Kathy to participation in the National Specialty, passing Open for her CDX and Tracking for her TD at the Wisconsin National in 1990.
Kathy's second dog "Brighteye Bailey Buffalo Gal" was her first conformation and breeding dog. Bailey was only bred once as she produced a pup with subaortic stenosis. Nonetheless, Bailey and her 2 unaffected progeny all lived to over 10. Kathy subsequently went on to breed 7 other litters under the Ahquabi prefix, with the line being known for good orthopedics and working ability. Several of her dogs were instrumental in work done to develop the genetic test for degenerative myelopathy in the breed.
Kathy remained active in the BMD community, becoming a draft judge, exhibiting in tracking, draft, conformation, obedience, and rally and attending most National Specialties.
Kathy's last 2 BMD litters proved heartbreaking. During OFA radiographs of the "G" litter at the age of 2, a show female was diagnosed with an anaplastic sarcoma of the jaw and subsequently died of that disease. At the age of 4 1/2, Kathy's heart dog, "Ahquabi's Fanfare for the Common Dog" (Olive) succumbed to hemophagocytic histiocytic sarcoma with a disease progression of 2 weeks.
At that point, Kathy came to believe that breeding purebred BMDs was no longer ethically justifiable and sought ways to continue bringing wonderful BMD pets into people's hearts and homes. Thus, in 2015, in collaboration with other members of the BMD community, the Vitality Project was born.
Steve has always been driven by his curiosity for the natural world. He spent most of his career working for the US Forest Service and most of his spare time working with dogs. Steve got his first Bernese Mountain Dog in 1991, and has been active in the breed ever since. He has held many club positions both in local dog clubs and with the BMDCA; including a stint as the BMDCA liaison to the International Working Group on Canine Health. Steve has always taken a scientific approach to dogs and constantly researches how science impacts our canine populations.