He’s definitely a lightweight, tipping the scales at just over 3 pounds and standing only 7 inches tall, but little Norbert is making a big impact on the world as an inspirational therapy dog and children’s book publishing star. His third book, a collaboration with world-famous cat Lil BUB, is helping Norbert spread his message of caring farther than ever before.
“I feel very fortunate that I’ve adopted such a wonderful little guy,” Norbert’s human, Julie Freyermuth, tells Dogster. “The way everything happened, from him becoming a therapy dog at the suggestion of a stranger, to publishing the book, and the social media — it kind of just grew, and one thing led to another.”
When Freyermuth first laid eyes on Norbert’s Petfinder profile back in 2009, she wasn’t scouting for a social media star or a muse to inspire her writing career — she was just looking for her first dog. She couldn’t have known that the puppy she fell in love with online would soon be known worldwide and would be the catalyst in transforming her from a project manager to an award-winning author and publisher.
“Norbert has changed my life in every capacity, in every way. It’s quite remarkable. From the volunteer work, to my career, to my personal life,” explains Freyermuth, who authored a series of picture books starring her dashing little dog after witnessing how Norbert positively impacts those around him.
“My lifelong dream to publish children’s books with my mother as the illustrator came to fruition. We made that happen because of Norbert and his inspiration.”
Long before the books, the author talks, and the hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Instagram fans, Norbert was just a tiny dog with a big personality. His journey of spreading joy to strangers began in an unlikely location — an eyeglass store in Boston.
“It was quite organic, which makes it, I think, very beautiful,” says Freyermuth, who remembers entering the store with Norbert and meeting a woman who believed teeny tiny Norbert would probably make a great therapy dog.
“I had no idea what a therapy dog was, so I did a little research, and I thought that it sounded amazing,” she recalls.
Freyermuth quickly decided the stranger was right — Norbert was born for therapy work.
“I trained him myself and saw how he connected with people and really did make them smile, and how he had a sense of when someone was sad or just needed some comfort.”
With the help of his devoted human, Norbert become a Canine Good Citizen, and the pair registered as a therapy animal team with Pet Partners. With his new credentials, Norbert volunteered in nursing homes and hospitals, and also became a certified R.E.A.D. dog with Intermountain Therapy Animals, helping kids practice their reading skills and learn to love books. As a therapy dog, Norbert was a hit with everyone from children to seniors.
“His message is that you don’t have to be big to make a big difference in the world, and that everybody can make somebody smile,” says Freyermuth, who eventually started a Facebook page as an extension of Norbert’s volunteer work and inadvertently created a social media star.
“I never intended for all this to transpire with Norbert. I didn’t seek to make him this well-known dog.”
Although she hadn’t planned for it, Freyermuth decided to do more good with Norbert’s growing fame. As the Chihuahua/Cairn Terrier/Lhasa Apso mix was spreading joy across the Internet, Freyermuth and her mother, illustrator and educator Virginia K. Freyermuth, were hard at work on the first picture book inspired by the beloved dog. That book, Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?, was published in November of 2013. The inspirational story explains how this little therapy dog discovered his unique gift for helping others. The 32-page book won several publishing industry awards, and in 2014 Freyermuth quit her job in order to write and work with Norbert full-time.
“At the end of the day, Norbert’s a dog, but what he stands for is so much bigger than he is, and I think people recognize that.”
After Norbert’s first book was released, the philanthropic pup traveled around presenting his message at schools, libraries, and civic facilities. Thousands of people have witnessed the presentations, learning about the important work pet therapy teams do and that everyone, just like Norbert, has a special gift that can be used to make a big difference.
In March 2015, Norbert’s second book, Norbert: What Can Little YOU Do? (featuring another Dogster Hero, Jeanie the Three-Legged Pooch), was released. A month later, a Kickstarter launched announcing Norbert’s third book (the collaboration with Lil BUB).
As the successful Kickstarter campaign noted, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Norbert & Lil BUB: What Can Little WE Do? will benefit Lil BUB’s Big Fund for special needs pets, and copies of the book will be donated to children’s hospitals and schools across America. The much-anticipated collaboration between the two adorable animals is currently available for pre-order.
Norbert has certainly changed Freyermuth’s life, and he’s also changed the lives of countless kids by teaching them that everyone has the ability to make someone smile.
“He lives that and inspires that in others, and that is really the foundation for everything that we do and who Norbert is and what he stands for,” says Freyermuth.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.