Meet Norbert, a tiny but big-hearted therapy dog, social media sensation and children’s book “author” who loves doing high-fives.
Norbert is only seven inches tall and weighs just three pounds. But don’t let that fool you. He’s way bigger on the inside than the outside! This unique little mixed breed pooch is part of a registered therapy dog team, along with “mom” Julie Freyermuth, and that’s just the start of everything he has accomplished in his six years. Norbert also stars in a series of children’s picture books, has his own apparel line and website (the home page welcomes you to “Norberthood”), and enjoys a huge social media following, with over 300,000 fans on his Facebook page alone. “He also gives pretty amazing high-fives!” adds Julie.
Although it’s hard to say what Norbert’s parentage is, Julie believes he’s a Chihuahua/Lhasa Apso/Cairn terrier mix. “‘Norbs’ is my first dog,” she says. “I adopted him as a puppy in 2009 through PetFinder, from a woman in California. When I called her about the puppy, I got a synchronistic feeling that he would be my dog. The moment I saw Norbert, when I picked him up at the airport, I knew he was special. And so began our ‘happily ever after’!”
Norbert was still a puppy when a woman who met him told Julie he’d make a good therapy dog. “At the time, it was something I had never even heard of,” Julie confesses. “I immediately looked into it, and when Norbert turned one year old, he passed the test to become a Canine Good Citizen. Soon after, he became a registered therapy dog with Pet Partners, as well as a R.E.A.D. dog with Intermountain Therapy Animals. We began volunteering at a nursing home, and also went to a children’s hospital in Boston for a year and a half.” Since then, Norbert and Julie have visited many more nursing homes and hospitals as well as schools and special events, where the diminutive dog invariably makes a huge impression on the people he meets.
At about the same time Norbert launched his therapy dog career, Julie started sharing photos of him on social media, along with positive messages about him. He’s now on Instagram and Twitter as well as Facebook, and also has his own YouTube channel. And the media are as enchanted with him as the public. Just last August, Norbert and Julie made an appearance on the Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family Television Show, and he has also been written up in the San Francisco Globe, which commented: “Norbert is one of the internet’s most popular therapy dogs.” Even Time.com has fallen under Norbert’s charms, saying, “His cuteness is transcendent.”
Another of the driving forces behind Norbert’s popularity is his children’s book series. “One of my lifelong dreams was to publish a picture book and have it illustrated by my mother, Dr. Virginia K. Freyermuth, an award-winning fine artist and art educator. We formed an independent publishing company called Polly Parker Press, and our first book, Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?, tells the story of how he became a therapy dog. The book’s message is that you don’t need to be big to make a big difference in the world, and that we all have special gifts that can make others smile. The book won nine awards and the second in the series, Norbert: What Can Little YOU Do?, was published in March 2015. We have donated hundreds of our books to hospitals and charitable organizations, and we sell them online at PollyParkerPress.com.”
The third book in the series, published just last November, features Norbert with a fellow social media star, a cat named Lil BUB (read her story in AW Vol 16, Iss 5). Not surprisingly, it’s called Norbert & Lil BUB: What Can Little WE Do?, and was co-written with Lil Bub’s “dude”, Mike Bridavsky. “To celebrate the completion of a successful Kickstarter project for their book collaboration, Norbert and Lil BUB donated $15,000 to Lil BUB’s Big Fund to help homeless animals with special needs, and they will also donate over 1,800 copies of their book to children in need,” Julie says. “It is remarkable how things have organically unfolded. One thing has just led to another, with Norbert remaining his ever-humble, tiny, cute little self all the while.”
Norbert enjoys a natural lifestyle, thanks to Julie’s dedication to his health and happiness. “Whenever possible, I work to select products and food for Norbert that are natural and organic,” says Julie. “We recently moved to Los Angeles where we are working with veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney, who uses a holistic approach.” Norbert eats a premium diet along with fresh, organic vegetables, and a variety of supplements. “He takes fish oil, a pre/probiotic powder, a chewable blue green algae-based natural anti-inflammatory for joint support, and an immune system supplement to help manage eye inflammation and tear stain discharge. I give Norbert a bath once a week and he is professionally groomed every month.”
Julie affirms that Norbert has changed her life in every way, all for the better, and goes on to share a few favorite stories about him. “One of my most meaningful experiences with Norbert was when we flew to Sacramento last December to visit Sawyer, an eight-year-old boy with a rare type of uncurable cancer. Sawyer’s family had reached out to me on social media and asked if Norbert would post a special photo to their son. Norbert and I created a video for Sawyer and flew up to meet him in person. We spent two amazing hours with this brave young man, who made us smile, laugh and left us feeling inspired and full of gratitude.”
Julie adds that Norbert in his turn loves to make people smile and laugh, and that it’s one of the things that makes him so popular. “I get incredible joy from reading the positive and inspired comments made by those who follow Norbert on social media and watch his videos,” Julie says. “Norbert gets messages, fan mail, artwork and photos from people all over the world. It is very humbling and rewarding, and it propels us to continue on with our volunteering, therapy and publishing work, and Norbert’s positive presence on social media. Yes, Norbert and I hope to make others smile, but we’d like people to know that they make us smile too.”
In his spare time, this busy little dynamo likes hanging out at home. “He enjoys spending family time on the couch, eating, napping, playing, sniffing around outdoors — and of course, giving his famous high-fives!”