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Norbert the Therapy Dog: Changing Lives and Spreading Joy

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Just because you’re tiny doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact. That’s the mentality of Norbert, a 3-lb. social media star and beloved therapy dog.

Shortly after rescuing the furry little pup in 2009, it became quite apparent to Julie Steines that the newest addition to her household was meant for bigger things. Norbert has an uncanny ability to elicit a smile and lift the spirits of those around him. So when she got him certified to become a therapy dog, he was an instant hit.

Aside from regularly visiting the staff at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Norbert also makes appearances at nursing homes. He’s acquired a network of 1.2 million online followers, which Steines affectionately refers to as “The Norberthood.” The gushing pet parent regularly cheers up Norbert’s fans with frequent posts that document his daily adventures.

PawCulture caught up with Norbert’s owner to find out more about the number one canine in her life:

PawCulture: How did Norbert come into your life?

Julie Steines: Norbert is my first dog. In 2009, I adopted him as a puppy through PetFinder. He was dark brown, with curly fur, and a head that looked too big for his tiny body. When I called the woman who listed him on the website, I got a synchronistic feeling that this would be my dog. The moment I saw Norbert, I knew he was special. This began our happily ever after.

PawCulture: What is Norbert’s personality like?

Steines: Norbert is incredibly smart, adorable, quirky and endearingly sensitive to the needs others. He makes people smile wherever he goes just by being himself. Norbie is a small dog with a huge heart.

PawCulture: How did Norbert become such a social media sensation?

Steines: The Norberthood, as we call Norbie’s followers, is an amazing virtual place and state-of-mind. We love reading the comments from folks who are touched and inspired by Norbert. They make us smile, just like Norbert makes them smile. It is a beautiful relationship. The Norberthood has grown slowly and organically over the past six years to now over 1.2 million people.

PawCulture: What is a typical day in his life like?

Norbert and his pet parent Julie Steines

Steines: During a typical day, Norbert enjoys napping, eating, sharing quality couch time, oh—did I mention eating? He loves food, all food, but I am very careful about what he eats. Since he is so tiny, everything that goes in Norbie’s tiny body is important. I take a lot of photos of Norbert—a real lot. Norb enjoys it because there are always dog treats involved and lots of belly rubs. My husband, Mark Steines, is an incredible photographer. We have spent many cherished hours photographing Norbert together.

PawCulture: What motivated you to want to make Norbert a therapy dog?

Steines: While I knew Norbert was a special dog, I never anticipated he would become such a symbol of joy, hope, and inspiration to so many people. When Norbert was just a puppy, a woman saw him and told me he would make a great registered therapy dog. Since I knew nothing about pet therapy, I immediately looked into it. I worked to train Norbert and when he turned one year old, he passed a test to become a Canine Good Citizen. Soon after, Norbert became a registered therapy dog with Pet Partners and also a R.E.A.D. dog with the Intermountain Therapy Animals. We began volunteering at a nursing home to bring comfort to those in need.

Since then, Norbert has volunteered at nursing homes, hospitals, schools and charity events. In addition to donating his time, Norbert donates copies of his books, plush toys and money to support causes that align with his mission of kindness and compassion. Every two years, we are required to become re-certified as a therapy animal team, which entails a variety of tests such as obedience and predictability.

PawCulture: What does Norbert love most about the therapy visits?

Norbert the therapy dog playing golf

Steines: Every therapy visit is unique and special. Over the years, there have been so many moments that have touched our hearts and made us deeply grateful for the work we do, the lives we touch, and the people we meet. I consider Norbert’s presence on social media an extension of therapy work we do in person. Each month, we get tens of thousands of comments, emails, private messages, and snail mail from people telling us how Norbert has helped or inspired them. We consider this a great honor and humbling responsibility to continue to spread the positive, inspiring messages of the Norberthood.

PawCulture: What do patients love most about Norbert?

Steines: His size, quirkiness, amazingly adorable face and the way he lovingly responds to a person in need of comfort. He embodies all that is wonderful about the human-animal connection. Norbert loves [volunteering] because he gets snuggles, treats, and lots of smiles. I believe Norbert senses that he is a source of positive energy for others. People of all ages find his presence uplifting.

PawCulture: What is Norbert’s main goal as a therapy dog?

Steines: Norbert’s goal is simple: to spread smiles and show that you don’t need to be big to make a big and positive difference in the world.

You can join the Norberthood on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter to follow along with this therapy dog’s daily life. 


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Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.