The Nerdery - Overnight Website Challenge

Twin Cities 2012, March 24-25

North Star Therapy Animals

In April 2008, a small group of volunteers decided they wanted to create a new organization exclusively aimed at providing therapy animal teams and services to facilities in the Twin Cities area, one that would be run solely by its members. Shortly thereafter, North Star Therapy Animals (NSTA) was formed. NSTA is a 100% volunteer organization that has grown to nearly 70 members, 90% percent of whom have one or more registered therapy animal partners. All of our members are passionate about providing therapy animal services and the benefits these services bring to individuals throughout our communities.


Therapy animal services consist of therapeutic and other activities facilitated by a specially trained animal and their handler, that are provided to people at no cost. Dogs are the most common therapy animals, however, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, horses and birds can also be therapy animals. Whether assisting with a goal-directed therapy session, helping a child learn to read, or simply visiting residents of a senior-housing facility, animals have been shown to be instrumental in improving the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive functioning of people.

The animals of North Star Therapy Animals are specially trained and work in a variety of facilities such as hospitals, schools, libraries, nursing homes, hospice units, physical therapy centers, assisted living facilities, and more. Facilities are increasingly recognizing the benefits of therapy animal services and, thus, the demand for registered therapy animal teams is growing.

The animals of NSTA are the personal pets of their handlers. All of our teams are tested and registered through Delta Society's Pet Partners® program, which requires a re-evaluation every two years for continued registration. Delta Society is a national non-profit organization that helps people live healthier and happier lives by incorporating therapy, service, and companion animals into their lives.

What new functionality we are looking for

We'd like our website to do the following:

1. Provide our organization with a more professional, yet still friendly and approachable 'face' to new recruits, facilities, potential donors, and the general public.

2. Provide our members with a password-protected 'members-only' section for a volunteer calendar of events, document and form storage, event sign-up, reporting and tracking of volunteer hours, managing email lists, and databases for managing member information, facilities seeking therapy animal services, and a possible communications archive.

3. Provide our members and the general public a way to easily and securely pay dues and make donations online.

4. Provide our members and the general public with a list of articles, books, etc. on therapy animal services and other relevant pet-related topics.

5. Provide us with an online store for selling NSTA logo merchandise.

6. Provide us with an easy way to display and update photos.

7. Provide us with the ability to embed news articles, videos, and news feeds.

8. Provide integration with social networking.

9. Provide full access for users of mobile devices.

10. Provide easy maintenance for our member volunteers.

Our current website is very minimalistic and very utilitarian. We want it to be eye-catching and for the focus to be on the true 'stars' of our organization – our therapy animals – and the work they do.

How the new functionality will help

1. A more professional look to our website would more accurately convey the professionalism of our organization and provide us with added credibility. In turn, this would help us be more successful at recruiting new teams, establishing relationships and partnering with facilities, and fundraising.

2. As our membership continues to grow, organizing our efforts and streamlining our operations is becoming more critical. Many of our members are uncomfortable navigating through our current Yahoo groups for information, so a more transparent, user-friendly way of interacting with our online tools will help immensely.

3. A big part of promoting therapy animal services is being able to show people just how beneficial and rewarding therapy animal interactions are. By being able to post photos, videos, and stories on our website, we can more easily show prospective members, potential donors, facility administrators, and the like what a positive impact therapy animals have on those they visit.

4. Much of the general public is either completely unaware that NSTA exists, or is unfamiliar with what we do and why. By devising a social media strategy, and having a website that supports it, our visibility would increase dramatically, and we would be able to educate more of the public about NSTA's mission. Side benefits to the increased visibility would be attracting a larger recruiting pool and increasing fundraising opportunities.

How our organization will use the technology

Who will use the technology

Before & After Snapshots

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73 Messages from Supporters

2012-02-03 20:08:15 UTC
Chad Burgess

I cannot tell anyone enough how great it is to be a member of North Star Therapy Animals. I had always wanted to train and have a dog that I could do animal assisted therapy with, bringing moments of comfort to those in need. After I completed training, and was registered I spent too many months wandering around trying to find some way in which I could use my new skill set. Nothing, then I stumbled onto NSTA. Since then I have been introduced to a large world of possibilities had more doors opened, and have had the opportunity to bring joy to hundreds of families and patients.

Thank you NSTA, and I hope that you are chosen as a new source of out reach would be able to reach more persons like myself who just want to help.

2012-02-04 15:43:31 UTC
Prairie Adult Care

Prairie Adult Care is a licensed day center for older, adults with cognitive, physical or psychological disabilities. The participants at Prairie Adult Care eagerly await Linda and Murphy’s bi-monthly visits.

Murphy’s gentle demeanor opens a window for expression that frequently closes with chronic illness. As Murphy and Linda greet each participant, smiles and stories emerge—stories of favorite pets, years gone by, heroic acts, faithful service. Murphy builds a bond between those who value their animal friends.

There is also a magical, relaxing component that accompanies stroking a soft, warm coat and looking into those big brown eyes of 100% real dog. We are blessed to experience this bond at our day center.

2012-02-04 20:43:29 UTC
Dee Dee Grant, Board President

I have been in leadership positions with many volunteer organizations, but none with as broad a reach and significant an impact as North Star Therapy Animals (NSTA.) Beyond the outstanding, traditional services provided by NSTA volunteers, we are fortunate to have pioneers amongst us who have partnered with professionals in health care and human services to create programs that explore emerging applications for therapy animal teams. Such programs expand recognition of the populations that can benefit from interactions with therapy animals. Recent examples of innovative applications include: an elementary school pre-intervention program for special education referrals (a west Metro school district); critical-incident stress management for emergency workers in peak-cycle disaster scenarios (35W bridge collapse); post-surgical recovery for pediatric brain surgery (Children’s Hospital); and goal-oriented therapy for veterans in Polytrauma and Spinal Cord Injury units (VA Medical Center.) It takes vision, special expertise, leadership and courage to embark on such endeavors. A core group of NSTA members embody these characteristics and break the ice for others in the therapy animal community to follow, ultimately reaching individuals with unique challenges who were previously unserved. I find it remarkable that so many benefit from the generosity of so few, based purely on a philosophy of servitude. There is no monetary gain, as all volunteers are unpaid and all NSTA services are provided at no cost to the individuals or the facilities they utilize.

2012-02-05 16:35:31 UTC
Barb Stevens

Years ago I saw an article in the paper about a program that helped kids improve their reading skills simply by reading to dogs.It sounded like something I'd like to get involved with,but I wasn't sure how to go about it.When a community ed. class was offered(by a NSTA member)about how to become a therapy team with your dog,I signed up.After the proper training,testing,and registration, my dog Cedar and I were eager to volunteer.During this process I heard about NSTA and attended one of their meetings.It wasn't long after that we became members and joined the group of volunteers visiting the city libraries as part of the READ program.At the end of one session the librarian told me that the kids who were just reading to Cedar are at the library every day.They are on the computers,draw,and even though there are volunteers available to read with them,the only time these kids will sit down and read is when one of our therapy teams comes to the library.On our second visit to this library some of the kids even met us in the parking lot, anxious to get Cedar inside and read to her.I have been a member of NSTA for just two years and I know that every member has stories about the impact their therapy animal has on those they work with.From my very first meeting I have been impressed with the great group of people who make up NSTA and the wonderful work they do.These volunteers have created an organization of dedicated and passionate therapy teams that are making a huge difference in our community.

2012-02-05 19:24:45 UTC
Joni Smith

My dog, BJ, and I have been a registered therapy animal team for 8 years, and have been members of North Star Therapy Animals since its inception. Having visited thousands of people at a variety of facilities, I can certainly attest to the positive impact that BJ has had on people. He has befriended countless individuals who tend to spend entire days in relative isolation. He has comforted cancer patients in the hospital, and put children at ease while learning to read out loud. He has brought much needed glimpses of normalcy to families temporarily displaced from their homes due to the illness of a child, and has enticed elderly visitors with limited mobility to pet his thick white coat. BJ connects with people in a way that is almost indescribable. One example, that I will never forget, happened as he laid next to a dying individual. BJ's presence and incredible calmness brought tears, but also a noticeable sense of solace, to everyone in the room, family members and facility staff included. I know that every one of NSTA's members could tell stories like this of their own. In our effort to reach even more people, NSTA needs to spread the word about the incredible work that these animals do. With your help, we will be able to do just that.

2012-02-05 21:11:25 UTC
Connie Priesz

I own a two year old Vizsla dog named Molly. She recently became a registered therapy animal. I joined NSTA in December, 2011. Because of NSTA, my dog and I started visiting a Sr. housing apartment complex. Just yesterday, we started working at the library and children read to her. One child lay down next to her and had her arm wrapped around her as she read. Her feet were swinging as she read flawlessly. When I joined NSTA and went to their website, I remember thinking that it would be great if the website was able to reach out to others more, and to really showcase what the members were doing. Everyone I have recently met is amazing. The dogs and owners are beautiful inside and out! The hours and moments spent helping others volunteering could be portrayed on a new website. Please consider North Star Therapy Animals for this amazing donation of time and talent you have to offer. A communication is needed to meet the growing need of more therapy animals. Can you help us continue our mission by meeting this need with your expertise and guiding web presense? Thank you! Woof Woof from Molly!

2012-02-05 22:12:48 UTC
Lisa Wright

Our yellow labrador retriever, Kodi and I have been NSTA members for not quite one year currently, and we've made many, many special visits to several sites. We're currently part fo the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program and visit libraries where children of all ages (we've had kids from 2 years up to 16 so far) can read to Kodi in a very comfortable, non-judgemental environment. In this safe environment, kids improve their reading skills, feel more comfortable being a habitual reader and even become more comfortable around dogs. We also visit kids and families at the Ronald McDonald House at the University of Minnesota campus as well as special needs school children in Minneapolis public schools. I have seen first hand the calming and loving response a therapy dog can bring out in children, no matter what their circumstances are. I've seen the children light up, engage in dialogue and even become more confident when speaking... therapy pets in some way "level the playing field" a bit so to speak, everyone gathered around a therapy pet can have a common experience... a very positive experience, and that makes it all worth while. I love what NSTA helps its members accomplish!

2012-02-05 22:59:12 UTC
Peg Sievers, Mental Health Practitioner St. David's Child Development & Family Services Autism Day Treatment Program

A therapy team from North Star Therapy Animals has been our most successful and appreciated volunteer experience in the Autism Day Treatment Program at St. David’s Center. Wendy Hitch and her dog Pookha volunteered for four years, until Pookha's untimely death this fall. Our program provides early intervention therapy for preschoolers with a diagnosis of ASD. Pookha was a model of patience, no matter what our children did...she willingly helped us as a motivator for children to work on their treatment goals. Her visits were very popular, and her presence resulted in more engagement with the world than we would have gotten from our children without her there. I would highly recommend a therapy dog team to any special needs program; it has been a very positive collaboration for us.

2012-02-06 16:43:33 UTC
Augustana Emerald Crest of Minnetonka

We have had the pleasure over the last year of having 2 different therapy dogs come to our site from North Star Therapy Animals.We are Assisted Living Memory Care and our residents thoroghly enjoy the pet visits.Our resident's faces light up everytime they visit and when they leave they are asking when they will come back again to visit. It has been a great addition to the daily lives of our residents and we are greatful that there are wonderful people out their to volunteer their time to put a smile on our residents faces. Thank You NSTA.

2012-02-06 18:00:30 UTC
Jan Gugino

I am a librarian at one of the Hennepin County Libraries. When I first heard about the NSTA READ program, I was very skeptical and actually did a fair amount of scoffing about it. I thought it was ridiculous that kids would come in to read to dogs. It was just a very odd notion to me. The night of the first READ program in our building, I went in to observe and I was not at all prepared for the magic that was happening in that room. The kids were reading to the dogs and were so focused on what they were doing. They were so connected with the dogs and were trying so hard to read well. They were all reluctant to leave when their turn was over. They obviously loved having a chance to read to a dog. Since then, I've seen the dogs in action several times and always marvel at the effect they have on the children and their efforts to read. As a librarian, I know the joys and the informational advantages of reading. I also see the challenges of motivating reluctant readers to find the spark that reading can bring. The NSTA READ program motivates reluctant readers to read and that is a huge accomplishment.

2012-02-08 15:24:52 UTC
Katie Elden, Park Nicollet Volunteer Services

Without North Star Therapy Animals the staff, patients and families of Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital and Park Nicollet Melrose Institute would be without the safe and comforting company of our Caring Canines. NTSA is the main feeder of therapy dogs to our two facilities where the dogs are some of the most visible and valued volunteers of our 800+ volunteer force. The dogs provide joy and a sometimes welcome distraction to people who are hurting due to illness, concern for a loved one, or the stress of working in such an environment. Their visits are invaluable. We have NTSA to thank for sending these dogs our way, and providing training and support for our current Caring Canine teams.

2012-02-11 20:52:10 UTC
Molly Harrington, Hennepin County Southdale Library volunteer

It has been a privilege to volunteer when the North Star Therapy Animals and their handlers have come to the Southdale library in Edina. It is a very popular, sold out event.
When families come to sign up what they will first notice is a calm, relaxing environment; The handlers and dogs are very professional and well trained. It is very apparent that they love what they do and are eager to share they love of reading to others through the use of their animals. They are always prepared with a dog related books from their own collections besides the books from the library.
One of things that has really impressed me is the ability of this group of dedicated and professional volunteers is the tone they set. Every child is welcomed and no judgementment is placed on their level of reading. It's a choice between being read to or reading out loud to the dog; They may have other children waiting to read to their particular dog but they make each child feel special and focus only on them.
As the families depart they often times ask how often this program comes to the library. They can see how much that 20 minutes reading to a dog has made their child feel. It's priceless!

2012-02-11 21:55:51 UTC
Mary Bente

I have been involved in pet therapy for over 24 years now. Originally with puppies and kittens that were up for adoption, and then with my own Australian Shepherd, Annie. I have been a member of NSTA since its inception. I was once interviewed about pet therapy work and was asked what was in it for me. What is in it for me is that it enriches my life, even though our mission is to benefit others. I have met so many amazing people in all kinds of circumstances that I would never have met had I not had my therapy dog to break the ice and give us a reason to visit and chat. Knowing I am helping brighten someone's day, if even for a minute, is a special feeling one has to experience to understand. Not to mention the fact my very social dog got all the affection she wanted. It is a win-win-win scenario. It was a sad day when I had to retire Annie, especially when it became clear my young dog was not therapy dog material (she's suspicious of new people). However, I could not give up my connection to NSTA so I am now the volunteer coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House visits. Although I sorely miss being able to do the one on one visits, I am still able to be involved in the wonderful pet therapy visits being made to such a wonderful organization as the Ronald McDonald House. Hopefully we are able to update and expand our website to draw in even more therapy animals teams to fill the ever increasing demand for visits.

2012-02-13 04:00:47 UTC
Kelly Vossberg

My golden retriever Teddy and I have been a registered therapy team for the past nine years. We volunteer at the Courage Center Residence in Golden Valley each month. While at Courage Center, residents are often unable to see their own pets for many months due to geographical limitations. Other residents may have had a lifelong love of animals, but never had the opportunity to have a pet of their own. As a team we are able to help fulfill this need and receive so much more in return. I often comment to the residents that each time we visit, it feels like the first, as Teddy’s tail wags the entire time we are there. I am truly honored to be welcomed into the lives of such amazing people each month. Being a therapy team through North Star Therapy Animals has enhanced my life in ways I never expected. Please assist us in spreading the news about all the wonderful work that therapy teams do through a fantastic new website!

2012-02-13 22:54:18 UTC
Minnetonka Assisted Living

We have the privilege of having the Therapy Dog team of BJ & Joni visit our residents regularly. They have been coming for over a year. Every time BJ interacts with our residents it is as meaningful as if it were their first meeting. BJ and Joni never fail to put a smile on our residents faces and to create a warm calm atmosphere. BJ and his handler extend unconditional love to each and every resident they come in contact with. We are greatful for their service.

2012-02-14 18:42:57 UTC
Carrie Brunsberg, Youth Services Librarian, Hennepin County Library - Nokomis

After being closed for renovation for nearly two years, the Nokomis Library re-opened to the public in late April 2011. Opening as a new building after a lengthy period gave library staff the opportunity to consider a number of programming opportunities to offer the public. The North Star Therapy Animals volunteers contacted the library to let us know they definitely wanted to continue bringing their dogs to the library on a regular basis. It was a pleasure to be approached by these long-standing volunteers and told they wanted to continue such a valuable service to the Nokomis community. Two to three well-trained dogs and their owners come to the library once a month to make themselves available to be fawned over, petted, adored, and most importantly, act as patient, interested listeners to children who are beginning readers. The Read to a Dog program offers the opportunity for kids to read fun books (instead of schoolwork) in a non-pressured, forgiving and calm setting. The dog owners also bring an invaluable amount of patience and willingness to accommodate the needs of our young readers. I submit this information to you with the hope that NSTA will have the opportunity for a website to help promote all of the wonderful activities they offer. They are a pleasure to work with!

2012-02-15 20:28:49 UTC
Ronald McDonald House Charities, Upper Midwest--Carynn Roehrick

North Star Therapy Teams come in to visit with our families every week. The result of their work is nothing short of amazing! Many of our families are with us an average of 4-6 months, but some need to stay for a year or longer. One of the things families miss most about being at home are their family pets. The therapy animals help fill that void in their hearts during their time with us. Patients, siblings and their parents have formed incredible bonds with our four legged visitors, and look forward to seeing them week after week.
The Ronald McDonald House greatly appreciates all of NSTA's time/effort in making our House feel even more like a Home!

2012-02-15 21:41:43 UTC
Kate Becker

My son John's life is being transformed due in large part to the help of his therapy dog Sasha and her owner Dave. At 2 years of age, my son spoke only a few words and had difficulty experiencing everyday activities that most 2 year olds enjoy. He began receiving speech and occupational therapy at Children's Hospital on a weekly basis. At the suggestion of his occupational therapist, Sasha joined John at his weekly therapy sessions and the results are nothing short of remarkable. John now speaks 4-5 word sentences and is now able to achieve accomplishments that were impossible only a few months ago. John's connection with Sasha is magical. She is able to engage and motivate John where others are not. Sasha calms and comforts him as he struggles with new goals. John would not have made the progress that he has without his buddies Sasha and Dave. Our family is so very grateful for Sasha and Dave who take time every week to help our son.

2012-02-16 17:44:01 UTC
Ardie Arko

My dogs, Molly and Murray, and I have been involved with North Star Therapy Animals since it's beginning. We visit Methodist Hospital, Melrose Institute and several locations of Children's Hospitals.

The patients at Methodist Hospital speak to me years after they have been in the hospital about their experiences with Molly and Murray. The visits bring smiles and love to those experiencing difficult times. There have been many incredible experiences. One comes to mind of a stroke patient who had visited with Molly and as we were walking out the door the patient cried out that while petting Molly she had moved her hand for the first time since her stroke.

Experiences at Childrens' several facilities have been numerous. A 3 year old who had been tube feed for all of her life was learning to eat and was not enjoying the experience. Murray and I came for a visit during the therapy session. First the little girl would take some of her food and put it on a shovel and feed it to Murray and then (miracles of miracles) she would eat the same food she had given Murray. Another time we were able to help a child who had been awake since her surgery for two days, unable to sleep. Murray cuddled in bed with her and both fell asleep. Space does not permit me to share the many mini-miracles.

2012-02-16 18:55:10 UTC
Stephanie Thompsen

My retired therapy dog and I were a therapy team for 4 years and members of North Star Therapy Animals from the day the group organized. Having the support and resources that a group like this provides was invaluable and made our time doing therapy work much more enjoyable. NSTA is truly people and animals coming together for the common goal of positively impacting the lives of countless people all over the Twin Cities and I am proud to have been part of this organization with my therapy animal - and will continue to support the group in any way I can for years to come.

2012-02-16 21:02:14 UTC
Mari Lowe

I have been a therapy team with my dog Sugar for nine years and with my dog Buddy with NSTA since it's beginning. Sugar and I worked in Utah at a rehabilitation facility all 8 winters. Buddy has worked with an autistic child, in a hospice program in Mpls. and our latest woluneer job has been visiting weekly with a group home for Episcopal Group Homes. These volunteer jobs are a win-win for all. The people we see look forward to our visits and Buddy thrives on all of the attention. I enjoy feeling that we are bringing some joy into the lives of others. Again I say it is a win-win for all.

2012-02-16 22:03:21 UTC
Vicki Lindquist

Although my pet partner is now retired, I renew my single membership in North Star Therapy Animals (NSTA) because I believe so strongly in this organization. I want to stay informed about the news coverage, research, outreach, and success stories that pertain to our group and the kind of work it does. With this information, I can continue to be a one-on-one advocate for NSTA and the life-changing experiences therapy animals can bring about. A website would be a vehicle for collecting and making such information readily accessible to both members and non-members. An attractive user-friendly website is important to maintaining and increasing opportunities for positive interactions between animals and humans.

2012-02-16 22:23:31 UTC
Jane Boss, Youth Services Librarian, Hennepin County Library - Linden Hills

The Linden Hills Library has had North Star Therapy Animals do their Paws to Read programs many times over the years, and it’s been a pleasure to work with both the volunteers and their animals. The Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis is known for being a dog-loving community, and so the program fits perfectly into the Hennepin County Library’s mission to nourish minds, transform lives and build community together. Many children have benefitted from the patience of NSTA’s therapy dogs, by encouraging them to read aloud with confidence. I whole-heartedly support NSTA’s application, and believe NSTA could benefit greatly from having a professional website. Thank you, NSTA, for all that you’ve done for us!

2012-02-16 23:31:25 UTC
Sandra Roback, Librarian, Hennepin County Library- Walker Library

The North Star Therapy Animals have been coming to Walker Library for four years. The children are always so excited to see the dogs in the library. The program is reliable and and they are eager to schedule library visits. The dog handlers are on time and prepared with their own books as well as using books we have on display for the children. They create a positive, nonthreatening environment and gentle guidance. The dogs'listen they don't tease, laugh or judge the children. Reading to a dog is a way for children to build positive associations with reading and improve their literacy skills. It gives children a chance to practice reading with the best audience of all, a patient cuddly therapy dog. The handlers talk through the dogs, "Andy might like a different story, maybe one with less words" if a child is struggling with a book,they gently guide the child if they need help. I have seen introverted children come alive and feel a sense of pride knowing the dog is listening and enjoying the story. They forget about their limitations and grow in a new confidence. It's a kindness and service only a dog can provide and a very private time for the child to read a story aloud. North Star is a dedicated group and we thank them for sharing their love of animals and reading with our young patrons.

2012-02-17 14:25:24 UTC
Tami Reece and Tucker

I spent a month in the hospital and rehab after an injury. I missed my dog so much during that time. In rehab my friends were able to bring Riley to visit. The impact of just one visit was huge. Riley my golden died just after that however I soon got Tucker my Brittany Spaniel. He and I completed training this Fall with Delta. Like others I didn't want to try to figure out what to do myself so I joined North Star Therapy Animal, NSTA. They had already made contacts within the community and knew where the "needs" were. In addition to the ease of scheduling visits with facilities I am also able to network and learn with NSTA as they provide related training for it's members. I don't need to worry about recertification either since some members are trainer/testers! It's a win/win.

Although I am a short timer a family member at Children's Hospital told me, "you have no idea the impact you have just had with my granddaughter". She has no idea the impact I get doing this!

2012-02-17 15:13:21 UTC
Kristen Kenney

I have been a member of NSTA for about two years with my Great Dane, Bogart. He adores people and through my membership with NSTA, we have been able to find a place where he can make a difference in people's lives together. We volunteer, working with occupational therapists and kids, at Children's Hospital. One day that I'll never forget is when a therapist asked me if Bogart would be willing to visit with a seven year old girl in the intensive care unit who had just had brain surgery and needed something special to help her motivate to move and do her therapy so she could heal. We went to her room and I was shocked to see her, frail in bed, her head all wrapped, even covering one eye. As soon as her exposed eye spotted Bogart, it lit up and that frail, sad girl was alive and would do all the exercises the therapist suggested when before she wouldn't even lift her hand. Bogart's gentle, calm presence helped this young girl heal. He worked with her several times after that. The last I heard, she was healthy and happy, back to the life a young lady should have.

2012-02-17 16:23:48 UTC
Gregory Bauhof

My wife and I were lucky enough to be granted permission to accompany a team on their rounds of a local hospital here in the Twin Cities area. We both wanted to see the interaction between the dog we followed and the patients. I tried to not go into this with any pre-determined scenario in my head so as to not taint the experience with a list of "I think this will happen" or "This is how I predict this will go". I wanted to take in all the honest reactions and emotions.

It's hard to put into words the amount of pure joy I saw in the faces of some of the patients just upon seeing that the dog was there. Not to mention how happy people were to be able to touch and pet the dog.
For a few minutes during that day, the patients were not thinking about the tubes providing liquid that were jutting out of their bodies. Or the lack of strength they were feeling while trying to recover from whatever ailment they had. They simply enjoyed the contact with another being who wasn't there to tell them things would get better or what hardships were to come next. They simply got to show affection towards another living thing and have it returned without conditions.

I have not had a therapy animal visit me while I have been in the hospital. But if I ever find myself back in one, I do hope that I will have the opportunity to have a NSTA visit me to take my mind off of my troubles. My healing would got that much faster and be that much better.

2012-02-17 17:46:26 UTC
Carla Donovan-Burgess

"My husband and I set out three years ago to get a pup and train him as a therapy dog. This was something my husband always wanted to do, and I was happy and excited to participate in the progress. We were successful and able to get our dog registered when he was only 18 months old. I then watched as my husband painstakingly attempted to make contact and start working with no luck. He then told me about NSTA, and signed us all up. I couldn't believe the amount of resources extended to us. Not only were my husband or I visiting at least once a week we were able to meet people who introduced us to other facilities and organizations. Currently he and his partner are visiting an average of 5 hours a week, and it has brought so much joy into all of our lives. I have now registered our second dog, and we are ready to get started on our own visits."

2012-02-18 03:19:56 UTC
Barb Gaffner, Delta/Pet Partner Instructor, Evaluator, and Pet Partner Volunteer

As an instructor, evaluator, and a pet partner volunteer, I am very pleased with how much this organization has extended itself in a number of directions. The commitment to the community is demonstrated in a variety of venues, from seniors, medical and health care facilities, hospices, schools, libraries and special community events. While this list may seem impressive, the efforts do not stop there. The emphasis on ongoing training of their teams is strong. On a regular basis, there is hands-on training with the partners, discussions of concerns they see and that teams need to be aware of in the various facilities, and perhaps a lecture on topics of interest. For example, the most recent session touched on the aging partner, the physical care and the anticipation of retirement. Yes, even the furry ones deserve a rest

Hopefully, a creative and innovated web site will encourage others to take a closer look at the community volunteer activities that are available and waiting for the right person and his or her pet partner. The demand continues too exceed the supply. Perhaps one day that can be resolved.
Barb Gaffner

2012-02-19 05:20:48 UTC
Wendy Hitch

In 2005, my Pookha and I became an animal-assisted therapy team, registered with Delta Society's Pet Partner program. We started a visiting program at Sojourner, a shelter for women and children. I learned of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program and felt this was a good match for us as Pookha got along well with children. Our career together led us to working in 7 schools with special education programs for children with reading anxiety, cognitive and developmental disabilites and students with autism from the ages of 3 to 15. We read with children through the library program, helped a District school nurse with her master's project, worked with therapists and their clients at Children's Hospital, visited at the Ronald McDonald House and saw elderly people in their homes. It is the magical presence the dog brings to it's relationships that is what works and is so inspiring. Doing this work with Pookha is one of the most personally satisfying things I have experienced.

I have been the Membership Coordinator for North Star Therapy Animals since its inception and have had the honor of meeting many wonderful and dedicated people and animals. Becoming a non-profit organization was our mission from the beginning as a means of creating avenues for NSTA to be a leader in the arena of animal assisted therapy, and to be in collaboration with other organizations in the metro area with similar goals as ours. Achieving this status recently, we are now in place to move forward with the rest of our dreams! A professional website would be the match for the integrity and credibility that our group is proud of. We have much to do and many people to bring into our fold ... and in this age of media, a website that displays who we are, what we offer and what we have accomplished is essential.

2012-02-20 19:26:59 UTC
Nancy Brooks, Reading Education Assistance Dogs

The volunteers of the North Star Therapy Animals certainly live up to the organization’s mission of positively impacting the lives of individuals in the Twin Cities. As an active North Star member I see firsthand how the wag of the tail and a friendly face can transform a situation and bring a smile to the people we are visiting.

I have been a therapy team since 2003 with my Shelties, Sassy, Ali, and Franklin. It is great to see the fun the people have when we visit but also to see how much my each of my dogs looks forward to visiting with people. And, of course, I get a tremendous personal satisfaction visiting with others.

The North Star Therapy Animal organization continues to provide support services to the therapy animal teams. A new website will help tremendously in supporting the existing teams and helping inspire new teams all in the goal of reaching more people with the benefit of the human-animal interactions.

2012-02-21 00:29:17 UTC
Amy Rosenthal and Oliver

Oliver and I joined NSTA 2 years ago, and since early 2011 we've been visiting North Memorial Hospital's Crisis Intervention Unit. We spend an hour there in the evening, after the patients have had supper and are looking forward to "the dog visit." Interactions between the patients and Oliver have been nothing short of magical, inspirational, and mystifying. How else can you define the moment when Oliver, in the middle of receiving a wonderful belly rub, spies a new person enter the room, looks up at the one giving the belly rub, turns his head, rises, and trots across the room, tail wagging, to greet the newcomer. Why else would a dog sacrifice a belly rub but for the inherent knowledge that "the new human needs me to greet him."

At the end of each visit, the patients are asked to rate their experience and write comments. These are the real deal:
"I miss my dog and it was great to have the contact."
"Oliver was very friendly and it was calming to spend time with him."
"It was nice to pet him and just watch him because it reminds me how much I miss my dog and my family. I want to get better to go home and be with them."
"It's nice to put your own problems aside and concentrate on the dog. you cannot be tense while petting a dog."
"My pets give me a reason to live and seeing Oliver reminded me of that."

2012-02-21 01:07:18 UTC
Nell Miller, Director of Therapeutic Recreation on behalf of the residents of Augustana Chapel View Care Center in Hopkins

We have had the absolute pleasure of receiving pet therapy through North Star with Joni Smith and her fluffy loved one, BJ. For many years,the two have been diligently visiting people on our list of residents who either love animals, are fairly isolated in their rooms, or both.

Joni and BJ are patient. They take time to listen to the residents and to acknowledge them one by one--it is not unusual for them to spend three hours here at a time. THAT'S dedication and care.

I'm not sure if anyone reading this has ever attempted to enter a nursing home with a pet, but boy can it be difficult to get past the front desk! EVERYONE wants them to stop and talk to them! Joni and BJ don't let this phase them. They give everyone time and attention, and as a result the residents feel thought about which means more than anything.

We are rootin' for ya, North Star! Keep up the amazing work. You spread so much joy and love to our seniors and you deserve the prize.

2012-02-21 01:16:13 UTC
Charlotte Harris - Media Specialist, Anthony Middle School

I have had the great pleasure of working at two different schools with a therapy team from North Star Therapy Animals. In 2007, I had the opportunity to observe Pookha and her handler, Wendy, in their interactions with children and staff at Edinbrook Elementary School. I was impressed by the intensity of Pookha's motivation, her gentleness and kindness, and her devotion to the children in the Special Needs programs. After three years at Edinbrook, I moved to a new position at Anthony Middle School and asked if Pookha and Wendy could visit there. Their enthusiasm and soothing nature transformed the programs into a fantastic success. The students in the Autism and DCD classes loved having Pookha visit them, and she did for another three years. All the children felt her enthusiasm, responded intensely to her, and waited breathlessly each week for her arrival. She was the light of their day, and she responded in kind to them. Her caring was evident in every story time, in every exchange in the classroom. She sat with the children as they shared stories, never critical, and always accepting. She got each of them to shine individually. Pookha was truly a part of our school family and is missed terribly. Please help NSTA to recruit more wonderful therapy animal teams like Pookha and Wendy.

2012-02-21 01:38:34 UTC

I am a single member of North Star Therapy Animals and have been a member from the beginning. For a number of years I was a team member with my miniature, silver poodle, Mitzi. Mitzi was a trained therapy animal and a Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.). Mitzi absolutely loved listening to children read. No matter what library we visited Mitzi would first greet the library staff and then the other dog teams. We would then sit down on a blanket with children’s books displayed. Mitzi sat by my side. The children were scheduled ahead of time to spend time reading to Mitzi. Mitzi knew the routine. When each child arrived, she would stand to greet the child and then lay back down to listen to the story. The children loved her. One little girl read to Mitzi for several months in a row. The last time we saw the little girl she handed me an illustrated story she had written describing her reading experience with Mitzi. On another occasion two little Somali girls together came to read to Mitzi. They were so excited to be around a dog. They kept petting Mitzi and hugging her and just hovering over Mitzi. Mitzi took it all very calmly and just let the girls enjoy petting her little furry body. On one of the last visits we made as a team Mitzi patiently sat while an autistic child read to her. No matter how erratic the little autistic child was, Mitzi remained very patient. Mitzi died in February of 2010. She left many memories for our family and the many children who loved reading to her.

I am a huge advocate for North Star Therapy Animals and am so proud of the work done by the members. A lot of time and energy goes into preparing and presenting an animal in a therapy situation. The dedication and love these members have for this work is incredible. Their efforts help so many needy people. Sometime in the future I will have another R.E.A.D. dog and I will always stay associated with this wonderful group.

2012-02-21 15:04:32 UTC
Nicole Iammatteo Lindstrom

Nicole Iammatteo Lindstrom, North Star Therapy Animals Board Member.
I am an Occupational Therapist at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota on the St. Paul campus. I have started the Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program for each of our sites including the inpatient rehab population as well as the outpatient population. I have seen first hand that children greatly benefit from having a therapy dog present during their sessions to increase overall motivation, provide a positive reward, providing a natural bond and to help with relaxation and decrease stress. Children typically gravitate towards animals and when a therapy dog is introduced to a therapy session, they are more motivated to work towards goal areas that at times, could be quite difficult. There is a great need for quality therapy teams to come to many different campuses and various times in the day and we need to recruit those quality therapy dogs/partner teams. I would not be able to reach the goals that I do as quickly if I did not have therapy dog teams present. They are an integral part of the therapy team.
Nicole Iammatteo Lindstrom, MS, OTR/L

2012-02-21 16:14:43 UTC
Rhonda Noetzelman

Sparrow, my Pekingese, and I have been a member of North Star Therapy Animals for the past 2 years. As a new animal assisted therapy team it was wonderful to have a group like North Star Therapy Animals to join. The North Star Therapy Animals family is great because this group of people and their pets are so dedicated to helping to enrich others lives. The lives that are touched by all of us is extensive. Sparrow and I visit Ronald McDonald House, the children spending extensive amounts of time going to and from hospitals are so excited to see the visiting animals. The families are also so appreciative of the time they can visit, and get away for a little while. Without North Star Therapy Animals, I would not have been able to touch other lives, and be touched in return.

2012-02-21 17:18:56 UTC
Special Educator

We are fortunate enough to have had two therapy teams from the Northstar Animal Therapy Organization during the 2010-2011 school year, and again for the 2011-2012 school year at our elementary school. They have been working with students who are at risk for emotional or behavioral problems as a positive behavioral intervention strategy before a referral to special education is made. The students that participated in this intervention had an overwhelmingly positive experience, and on the days the dog or guinea pigs would come to school, students were excited to come down and participate. Each student worked hard to earn their time with the animals, and behavior improved with their interventions. The students learned social skills, how to greet a dog/guinea pig, and they read books relating to feelings helping the students identify with the animals (dogs and guinea pigs are shy, or anxious sometimes too) among many other activities. We are so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit with these teams, and it wouldn't be possible without organizations such as Northstar. Thank you for your help!

2012-02-21 22:41:09 UTC
Maggie at Augustana Chapel View Care Center

I work at a nursing home that does not allow a facility pet beyond the birds in our aviary. Joni has been one of our regular and long-time Chapel View volunteers along with her faithful and compassionate dog, BJ. When this duo enters through the front doors, our residents immediately flood to her. Seeing BJ is the highlight of their day, week, and for some, their month! It is not only the residents who benefit from these visits, but also the staff. I am "guilty" in this enjoyment. Giving a few pets to BJ can turn a slow day into an upbeat and enjoyable one for everyont. He knows just how to comfort those in need, bring a little pep to others, and provide a healing touch. We are truly greatful for the time that Joni & BJ give our residents and for all of the services that NSTA provides. On behalf of the residents and staff here: Thank you!

2012-02-21 23:00:30 UTC
Latarshia Mercer, Volunteer Director at Augustana Chapel View Care Center & Apts.

I wish I could paint a picture for all to see the joy, Joni & BJ bring to the residents of our facility. If anyone has experience working with the elder population, they're familiar with the successes and challenges it can present. I can not begin to describe what it's like to witness a resident lighting up from the inside out during pet therapy visits, with Joni & BJ. They are so dedicated to the mission of NSTA,as well as to the residents. Most of our residents are avid dog lovers and for some; these visits are the one thing they look forward to. The therapeutic aspect of pet therapy visits are absolutely irreplaceable and we feel grateful to have Joni and BJ here providing such a priceless service. I, sincerely hope NSTA is the recipient of this wonderful opportunity. I know are there others than can and should benefit from pet therapy. Go North Star Therapy Animals!

2012-02-22 01:49:31 UTC
Yvonne Duperon

My dog Toby and I have been registered as a PetPartners team with Delta Society for 6 years. Toby is a natural in his interactions with people, sensing when to move in more closely or when someone is a little anxious about his presence, in which case he’ll remain very still and calm. He is particularly gentle with children. Although twice the size of many of the children he visits, he quickly convinces them that he is no threat and has a very calming effect. For the first 3 years, we only did occasional visits and weren’t sure how to get started as a regular volunteer team at a facility. I thought that there were probably very few facilities that were looking for animal therapy teams. Then we met a volunteer who belonged to Northstar Therapy Animals (NSTA). I met with one of the coordinators for the volunteer organization, and she convinced me of all the benefits of belonging to the NSTA organization. NSTA has been instrumental in connecting us with facilities that are looking for animal therapy teams, and I was amazed to find out how much the teams are in demand. In addition to the connections with facilities, NSTA has provided information and guidance that has helped us become a better therapy team. Our website could be another tool for letting others know about the benefits of using animals in therapeutic ways and how Northstar Therapy Animals helps support the teams who are volunteering their time.

2012-02-22 06:32:48 UTC
Patti Anderson, Doggone Good Coaching, LLC, Delta Evaluator and R.E.A.D. Instructor

As one of the founding steering committee members for North Star Therapy Animals, I have heard truly amazing stories from the people in our organization over the years, about how their animal has made a significant difference to those they have visited. I can't recount all of their personal stories, but each week I am moved by my own experiences. The very first time my therapy husky KoKo and I went to the local library ten years ago to read with children, I realized how powerful even a fifteen minute reading session could be.  It was spring and the third child we read with was just finishing kindergarten.  The little girl wanted me to read to her.  After the first book I pointed out a favorite story of KoKo's and she started reading it to my dog.  After she had finished reading two more short books, I looked up and saw her mother in tears.  She shared with me that it was the first time her little girl had read out loud to anyone else except her, even her teacher couldn't get her to do it at school all year. The little girl wasn't reading to me, she was reading to KoKo.  It was a powerful moment not only for this family but for me as well.  It was a glimpse into the future and the amazing journey that was ahead.  NSTA wants to be the catalyst for more amazing journeys.  A really top notch website would help us do amazing things.

2012-02-22 13:45:12 UTC
Jayne Jones

One of my favorite memories as a NSTA therapy team was when my Standard Poodle, Maddie, and I were visiting Ronald McDonald House. As a big dog, Maddie was often eye to eye with the children, which might be intimidating for some. On one occasion when visiting with a very sick little girl who was encumbered by lots of tubes that prevented her from speaking or moving freely, Maddie calmly approached her and gently nuzzled her, nose to nose. They made a connection in that interaction that delighted them both. NSTA therapy teams make special moments and bring joy in the simplest ways. I'm honored to be part of this organization.

2012-02-22 15:59:12 UTC
Hannah Fairman

I am a new member of NSTA with my dog, Sal. We were looking for a way to connect with other therapy teams to stay in touch with new developments in the field. From what I have seen so far, NSTA has a diverse group of very committed therapy teams that share knowledge and experience to promote growth and development for all members in the work they do in the community. Sal and I volunteer at the Minneapolis VA Medical center in the Spinal Cord Injury and Polytrauma Units and it has been such a rewarding experience to see how Animal Assisted Therapy can be integrated into people's physical, social, and emotional goals while getting treatment. I have seen that AAT can be a valuable tool in helping people with serious injuries work on rehabilitation. NSTA provides support to these endeavors and an opportunity to share insights and development.

2012-02-22 20:18:21 UTC
HealthPartners Hospice & Palliative Care

As a staff member at HealthPartners Hospice I have had opportunity to work with members of NSTA. The presence of these volunteers and their animal partners provide exceptional moments of comfort to our patients in their final weeks. Therapy animals are an integral part of our volunteer program and the services we are able to provide to our patients. I have seen on numerous occasions how a visit from the therapy animal calmed an anxious patient, brought a smile of joy to a sad face, and filled a lonely moment with a visit from a friend.

2012-02-22 20:26:18 UTC
Liz Sanborn

My Saint Bernard, Habibi, and I have been a member of North Star Therapy Animals for about a year now. When I adopted Habibi, I knew right away that she would be thrilled to do therapy work, and North Star Therapy Animals has been an incredible asset in helping us achieve her place in the world. The impact she has is as incredible as it is intangible, but everyone we meet knows the value of her work. Just recently, Habibi and I visited a little girl in the hospital who was about 6 months old. As we walked in, her grandmother, who was holding her said she had just fallen asleep. I offered to leave to let her rest, but the family insisted on waking her up for her special visitor. As her grandmother knelt down so the baby could look my dog in the eye, a huge grinned spread across the little girl's face and she started giggling. Her grandmother, with tears in her eyes, thanked me for coming, saying that it had been a rough weekend and none of them had slept. Being able to bring these moments of joy to the people who need it most is a service that goes beyond description. The work that North Star Therapy Animals facilitates has changed many lives and will continue to do so.

2012-02-22 21:57:29 UTC
Jennifer Hemken, Youth Services Librarian, Carver County Library--Chaska

I have enjoyed working with North Star Therapy Animals (NSTA)volunteers at the Chaska Library since 2004 as part of the Tails for Reading program. Owner/Dog teams welcome and interact with children in an incredibly positive way that is amazing to watch! Children who are frustrated trying to read at home and in school, enjoy reading aloud to a nonjudgmental canine friend and share a story. Children are then encouraged to read at home to a pet or stuffed animal until they come back and visit again. This creates a positive environment to encourage reading. One mother said her son was reading below level and struggling to read "Harry and the Dirty Dog" and began regularly participating in the Tails for Reading program. After a year and a half I saw the mom and her son and he proudly told me, "I went from Harry the Dirty Dog to Harry Potter!"
Sometimes it is hard to explain to someone that has never seen a child and therapy pet together before, why they should participate in this program. But once they do participate they want to come back again and again. That's why we need a great website with pictures, articles and testimonials to support and encourage these programs.

2012-02-22 22:29:20 UTC
Catherine Brennan

We are an inner city library that’s filled with children every day. Many of the kids are often in stressful situations: families with employment and housing issues, violence in their neighborhoods. Simply being in a calm state, and ready to learn, can be a daily challenge. Often kids read below grade level. Enter North Star Therapy Animals! Our Champions of Reading Companionship provide a chance to read with a non-judgmental listener, a dog or other animal along with their trained and doting human helper. As one boy enthusiastically read from a book that he was showing to the dog snuggled next to him, the adult who’d come with him was incredulous, ”His mother is constantly trying to get him to read at home, and he won’t do it. She’s tried everything.” Another adult brings a group of children from a shelter, and their faces go from drawn to excited as they peek into the room to see what other kids are doing with the dogs, pressing in to inch closer to their turns. Kids usually leave smiling, holding a picture of a dog that they just read to. All report that they enjoy the experience, even those children that start out timid around the dogs. North Star Therapy Animals provide a motivating experience of reading, and, as early literacy research shows, motivation is a key factor in getting children to learn to read. We would love to have them come more often and a website would help them recruit more volunteers.

2012-02-23 08:30:17 UTC
Jen Cybert, HUC at Methodist Hospital

We always look forward to our furry visitors from NSTA, especially Murray! He's always glad to see the staff and our patients and we are always glad to see him. He can turn a difficult shift into a wonderful one with his wonderful, loving personality. Our pediatric patients love getting visits from Murray, but I think the staff love it even more. I have a young Akita pup that we are training to become a therapy dog. I can't wait to participate in all the good that NSTA does!

2012-02-23 03:31:24 UTC
Susan Lindberg

Working on a medical/surgical hospital floor is stressful, and demanding for our staff members and patients. However, we are so lucky to have North Star Therapy dog, "Murray", a gorgeous Sheltie, visit us that we turn into blubbering, adoring fools at the sight of him. And when he wears his sunglasses!!!!It is just too much!!!Of course, our patients are soothed and happy to see Murray, a scientifically proven FACT of healing, but our staff benefits enormously. We just flock to Murray for our furry "fix". Please help our North Star Therapy Animals. They are very much needed.

2012-02-23 04:16:13 UTC
Nancy Benson

My bichon frise, Dinah, and I have been a pet partners team with NSTA for three years.  In the fall of 2009, NSTA received a forwarded letter from a woman in Holland.  The woman's 99-year-old mother lives in an assisted living home in Edina.  The daughter, an only child, wrote that her mother always loved dogs, and dogs was the only subject the two could converse about at any length.  She asked if there were a therapy dog team who would visit her mother.  We began visiting "Mary" weekly, and I consider it one of the most significant times of my week.  Mary (now 101-years-old) immediately loved Dinah, and her face lights up when we walk in her room.  We talk at length about Dinah and my other dogs.  We've also discovered a shared love for the North Shore of Lake Superior.  Every week, when Dinah and I prepare to leave, Mary asks if we will come again.  She always tells me how much it means to her to see us.  I am grateful to have made this connection, and glad NSTA is there to connect our teams with people who can benefit.  By the way, in the two-plus years we've visited Mary, we've met many other dog- loving residents at the home, and, of course, we visit them, too.

2012-02-23 17:58:16 UTC
Kay Osmundson

My dog Anny and I became Delta and R.E.A.D. certified almost 2 years ago. We were so excited to start visiting and serving together, yet had such a difficult time figuring out where and how to make the connections to get started. We just happen to cross paths with teams that were connected with North Star Therapy Animals, and we were thrilled to be able to join their organization. NSTA has connections and opportunities all over the Twin Cities area which allow us to figure out which environment we are best suited for. Anny and I love to visit the Ronald McDonald House and participate in R.E.A.D. at 3 different libraries. None of those connections would have happened without NSTA.

One of our most favorite stories is a little girl who came to the library to read to Anny. She had some learning disabilities and was afraid of dogs. Evidently the neighborhood dogs jump on her. We spent some time showing her some of Anny's tricks-high 5, retrieving, down, stay, etc, until she felt comfortable. She sat down on our blanket and began to read to Anny. It took her a long time to get through her book, but we just let her work her way through. After she finished the book, she had a big smile and asked her mom if she could come back next month to read. She has been coming every month since then:)

The therapy dogs love unconditionally, and sometimes that love is all a person needs at that moment. What a great way to spread a little love.

2012-02-23 18:59:31 UTC
Susanne Wollman

I have been a member of NSTA since its inception. My therapy partner, Bruce, was rescued from a puppy mill at age 3, and I like to think that we pay it forward by sharing our time during therapy visits. We have had many meaningful moments during therapy visits. We visit the Ronald McDonald House as well as do R.E.A.D. events at libraries. I remember one visit at RMH where we were visiting with sisters of a sick child. They were so happy to see Bruce and told me that they couldn’t even remember the last time they had seen their own dog because they had been at RMH quite a while with their sick sibling. We had one R.E.A.D. event that I will never forget. A mom came into the room where the therapy animals were with twin children around 4 who were very reluctant to be there. I learned from the mom that both children had been traumatized by a neighbor’s dog and were terrified of dogs as a result. The mom figured meeting the therapy dogs would be a good way to show her children that they are nice dogs too. At the beginning, the little boy was as far away from Bruce as the space would allow. By the end of the reading session, he had to have a picture taken of him petting Bruce. I learned later from someone doing a home visit as the family prepared to adopt a dog of their own that the picture of the boy and Bruce was framed and displayed along with family photos in their house. None of these visits would have taken place without NSTA. My busy schedule doesn’t allow me to visit a facility regularly, but the group visits NSTA schedules with RMH and the R.E.A.D. events allow me to pick and choose a day to visit with my therapy dog. I am so grateful for the support and knowledge I have gained from the other NSTA members. Getting an updated website would allow us to reach so many more people with the benefits of therapy animals.

2012-02-23 20:13:29 UTC
Sarah McKee, Education Coordinator, University of Minnesota Child Development Center

Barb and Andy the Therapy Dog have been visiting our center, the University of Minnesota Child Development Center, for more than 3 years. We are so lucky to have frequent opportunities of this wonderful community resource! Barb & Andy visit with children ages 16 months (Toddlers) to 4 years (Preschool) – Andy does so well with them!

Barb has Andy lay on his special blanket, and interested children are invited to brush or pet him. One of the best things about Barb is that she is so kind and reassuring with the children – she’s sensitive to their needs and can tell when they aren’t quite ready to be close to Andy. She suggests they hold Andy’s brush or wave to Andy. In addition, she frequently brings books that feature dogs or pets, which directly relates to facilitating early interest in literacy.

Over time, we’ve seen many children become familiar and more comfortable with Andy and decide to be close to him or pet him – we have pictures of Andy and the children on display around UMCDC for all to see and talk about. We include Andy in our Curriculum; touching Andy is a sensory experience, and practicing being gentle teaches early social interaction. We definitely consider Andy & Barb a part of our UMCDC community, and we greatly appreciate Barb’s volunteered time.

2012-02-24 00:42:21 UTC
Linda Frey

Being retired and owning a dog (Murphy) that is sweet, gentle and great with people and pretty well trained already, I decided to explore the world of therapy animals after hearing a promotional piece from the Animal Humane Society on the TV. Murphy and I accomplished the required training fairly quickly and were registered as a Delta Society Pet Partners Team. However, now what do we do with the training? This is where NSTA comes in. NSTA provides guidance for all teams, offers new in-sight, networking, helps keep the teams up to date with new ideas, etc. and provides a vehicle for getting teams out to facilities that are requesting NSTA’s services. I am the coordinator for the North Star Readers group that goes to libraries and schools that request R.E.A.D. ® teams. There are more requests than teams available. Having a web site that promotes what we are doing and one that encourages potential volunteers to investigate the possibility of becoming a team with their own family animal, will help our organization to grow; allowing more facilities to receive and enjoy therapy animal services for their clientele. Murphy and I have been a member for 5 years now and if we were able, we could be busy every day of the week. Had I not seen that TV advertisement, we may of never of known the pleasure of being a therapy team and being a part of NSTA. We need to get the word out about this great working relationship between animals and people; and not leave it to chance in a TV commercial.

2012-02-24 01:31:52 UTC
Mary Lou Carlson

In 2009 my collie, Venus, and I became a registered Delta therapy team, joining the North Star Therapy Animal organization. This group has been a wonderful experience for me. They provide many opportunities for members throughout the year all over the twin cities; they offer educational/fun meetings every other month to keep us up to date with the many ways an animal therapy team can service people of various needs; and they do Delta reevaluation exams that we must pass every two years. Having this support is invaluable!
In December of 2010 I learned first hand how valuable a therapy dog can be. My husband of forty-five years passed away unexpectedly. When all our children and grandchildren had left, my dog, Venus, took over. She stayed at my side constantly and at night, never having been allowed in bed, jumped up and slept right by my side. That warm body next to me was great therapy and still is to this day.
North Star Therapy Animals has a great deal to offer therapy animal teams. It would be wonderful to have a website that shows the public who we are, what we do, how valuable this volunteer team work is for people, and what they can contribute to this great adventure!

2012-02-24 19:57:21 UTC
Renee Beymer

When my mother was in the hospital she was visited by several different therapy dogs. She enjoyed those visits so much and told me this was something I could do with my dogs and I do.
NSTA helps us to stay connected with others doing the same kind of visiting. We can share challenges and victories. We can celebrate each other and our pet partners. We can practice our skills and connect with locations wishing visitors. I know that I am a more confident and capable therapy partner because of my NSTA membership.

2012-02-24 16:21:07 UTC
Lisa Munson, Volunteer Coordinator at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

I have had the true honor and privilege of working with many of the North Star Therapy Animal teams at Children's! In our organization, the animal assisted therapy teams fall under our Pets Assisting With Healing (PAWH)program. PAWH teams offer children the distraction of a companion animal and act as calming presence. Animal visits help to normalize the hospital environment for children during their stay. Words can not express how much these volunteers mean to the patients, families, and staff at Children's. We are truly blessed to have volunteers from the North Star Therapy Animal association sharing of their time and talents at Children's!!!!!

2012-02-24 18:24:04 UTC
Ann Goplen

Bringing smiles to little faces- serendipity in action for a North Star Therapy Animal Team

Midnight and I were a newly minted Pet Partner Team and NSTA member. We were sitting in the grass waiting for a friend in a parking lot along highway 52 when a mom walks up to ask if her daughter could pet my dog. She explained her daughter was having a bad day, that they were on the way home to the Twin Cities from Mayo Clinic. Her daughter had been in for a transfusion and the Mayo therapy dog who is normally there for her couldn't be with here there that day. We pulled out a blanket and spread it on the ground so they could spend some time together. This tiny, pale girl with deep dark circles under her eyes started softly stroking my 85 lb. Border collie mix, quickly progressing to belly rubs and full body puppy massage. Midnight got to cuddle with her for almost hour. She started glowing and her face lit and that smile- her mom said she hadn't smiled in two days! Wow- saw the magic these animals can do working right there. I will never forget the smile on her face or the tears in her mom's eyes over seeing her little girl smile.

A new website will help us attract more pet partner teams and people interested in becoming pet partner teams, also with places where our teams could be of service.

2012-02-24 20:40:10 UTC
Jean Huber, OTR/L - Occupational Therapist, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

I am writing, with great pleasure, to urge you to award North Star Therapy Animals a website to assist them with communicating their mission and services. I specialize in working with children who have feeding, developmental and behavioral issues, and have utilized highly-trained therapy animal teams extensively in my therapy sessions. One such team was Pookha and Wendy from NSTA. They were often present throughout the treatment process and, many times, made the difference in the success of the treatment. They always brought a calming influence to the child and their family, and were a strong positive reinforcement. Many children are cautious and fearful of trying new activities and new foods. Therapy dogs assist in increasing the children's comfort by participating in activities that help calm and focus the child in preparation for eating. When a child and dog work together on tasting new foods, it is amazing to watch. The reward of the child being able to feed the dog using a special spoon, has really made a difference. With the dog modeling, the child has tried new foods more readily and has learned to eat foods that improve their growth and nutrition. It is very rewarding to the family to see the child smile, relax, have fun and enjoy eating. Therapy dogs are an invaluable resource and have truly made a difference in the lives of the children and families I serve. I highly encourage you to help this great organization with their mission.

2012-02-24 21:07:48 UTC
Lynn and Paul Sansale

My husband and I had the course of our lives changed thanks to the association we have with the members of NSTA. When discussing the desire to add a dog back into our lives, we were encouraged to consider rescue by one of their members who invited us to observe her rescued therapy dog, a volunteer with the READ program. We were so impressed by the way she helped struggling readers find confidence. Through this same volunteer and others this NSTA group, we learned all about the horrible state rescue organizations were in due to the recession and all the beautiful dogs waiting for adoption. Long story short, we were so inspired by their members and work done by these therapy teams that we decided to produce a calendar called “Rescue Dog to Therapy Dog” for the 2012 year. It featured Paul’s painting s of 12 Minnesota rescued therapy dogs and their stories. North Star Therapy Animals were responsible for helping us find half of the wonderful dogs in our calendar. These generous volunteers completely changed the way we looked at rescue and hopefully our calendar can help others to realize the resilience of rescued dogs too. NSTA’s members were a constant source of inspiration to us and change the lives of thousands of people. We can’t think of another group more deserving of this honor – hopefully you will celebrate all the good they do and recognize their invaluable contributions.

2012-02-25 00:22:21 UTC
Lynn Grote

I joined NSTA when they first got started. I have an older dog, Rusty, and about a year ago he told me he was ready to retire. We have such grand memories of our time with NSTA. Having a therapy dog is definitely one of the highlights in my life. Nothing could make me feel better than seeing a sick child pet Rusty for a half hour, or see a child's reading improve after seeing him for a few weeks. NSTA was instrumental in guiding me. It was great to meet people who had the same interests, and get tips and ideas on how to make our visits better. Without NSTA we would not have been so successful. They encouraged me to venture out to schools and libraries when I was a little too shy to just try it. Their support is awesome, and Rusty and I learned so very much. Their standards are high, their kindness overflows, and I remain very proud to have been a part of them. If the time comes that I have another therapy dog, I would love to join this group again. They inspired me to be a better person, and because of them Rusty and I were able to spread the love!! Thanks NSTA, for our time with you, it was amazing!

2012-02-25 01:06:34 UTC
Cyndi Olson, School Nurse

I am writing to say thank you to North Star Therapy Animals for the wonderful assistance I received from one of their teams. Wendy and Pookha consented to help me with my master's project for a Health Science degree. I wanted to show how the use of a no-cost, valuable community service (animal-assisted therapy) could help increase the attention span of some special needs students that were in summer school. While the students interacted with Pookha and Wendy by reading stories, I monitored and timed eye contact, smiles, and other positive behavior and compared that to previously monitored non animal-assisted reading time. The improvements were very noticeable! We have since had two teachers go through the training with their dogs and one works with her animal partner on a regular basis with her special needs students. Thank you Wendy and Pookha for all you did. You were an awesome team!

2012-02-25 05:48:31 UTC
Lisa Williams, Sojourner Shelter Coordinator

A North Star Therapy Animals team, Pookha and Wendy, visited our shelter weekly for 6 years. Sojourner serves women and their children, who are victims of domestic violence and who often have been through major trauma and are under a great deal of stress. Sojourner Shelter strives to provide these families with a safe and calm atmosphere conducive to healing. Pookha was so well behaved, friendly and playful that the women and children quickly fell in love with her and looked forward to her weekly visits. She sat quietly and attentively while children read books to her, practicing new words and gaining confidence in their reading skills. Adults looked forward to her visits too, petting her soft fur and hugging her gently seemed to calm the women and they relayed stories about pets they had to leave behind. When the children were in playful moods and wanted to be outside, Pookha would chase and retrieve the ball for as long as someone kept throwing it. She also liked to show off the tricks she knew for anyone who was willing to watch. Our staff and families acknowledge that Pookha definitely provided our shelter with a valuable therapeutic service. Her devotion to our families was so appreciated.

2012-02-25 14:14:04 UTC
Chuck Heubach

I joined North Star Therapy Animals after spending about six months in the field independently visiting Alzheimer's care homes and a local hospital with my pet partner. Although I am currently the newest member of North Star Therapy Animals, it is already clear that I have found an organization that can and will support the practice of Animal Therapy in Minnesota.
Everywhere we go people ask about how they can participate in an animal therapy program, but after completing initial training there are few organizations that continue to support the human side of the partnership.
In order to be accessible to more patients, more pet partner teams are needed, and North Star Therapy Animals plays a critical role in the mentorship of others. A single pet partner team may visit seriously ill and dying people every week, bringing joy, comfort, and healing to those people. It has been scientifically documented: Animal Therapy makes a difference! That's why we are permitted in Hospitals! North Star Therapy Animals makes that difference possible, and the work of NSTA is critical to the well being of Animal Therapy Practice in Minnesota.

2012-02-25 21:58:03 UTC
Lynette Durham Volunteer Coordinator For Allina Home & Community Service

I've had the privilege of hearing the heartwarming stories of patients and how they light up when a pet therapy dog or cat has brightened their day.

These short visits from North Star animals mean so very much to our terminal patiients.

This experience can transform an non-engaging patient back into full engagement when an animal is placed in their lap.

A great deal of preparatioin is involved with getting the owner and the animal ready for these visits. Owners must complete a hospice training and the animal must be groomed and certified beforehand.

We are very appreciative of the efforts put forth by Cheri Swenson & her team on behalf of our patients.

2012-02-26 01:01:48 UTC
Sandra Solem, Board Member

I have been involved with NSTA since its inception. We have grown from a small group of volunteers to nearly 70 trained, human-animal teams. We work in a wide variety of settings to bring people and animals together to foster the connections that bring joy, healing and reassurance. Our teams have a powerful effect on people of all ages. Nursing home residents, who may feel very isolated, light up when we come for a visit. It's a chance for conversation and a chance for them to hold a cat, or stroke a dog's fur, and remember their own animal companions. Children trying to re-learn motor skills or recover from trauma or illness receive much-needed encouragement from a dog. People nearing the end of life are comforted by the gentle presence of an animal when words are no longer necessary. So many lives are positively affected by our therapy animals and their human partners. We hope you will help design a website so we can better share our work and our mission.

2012-02-26 15:32:26 UTC
Sherri Bode, DCD Teacher - Anthony Middle School

Having a team from North Star Therapy Animals in my special needs classroom for 3 years brought us so much! When Pookha was present, a sense of calm, comfort and happiness came over all of the kids - those going through difficult times at home, and even those with behavioral difficulties. They couldn't wait for her to come each week so they could read, do math, or play Bingo with her. They even learned how to be kind and compassionate toward animals, and some of my non-verbal students really came alive when the dog was around! Having a therapy dog in the classroom was such a wonderful experience for my students. Although they have difficulty learning, the kids were always eager to read and do math homework, and instead of being a distraction, many actually focused better because they got the privilege of sitting by the dog while doing their work. One of my most challenging students really enjoyed seeing photos of Pookha on the computer. I took many photos and video clips of the activities and field trips with Pookha and made them into a slideshow with music. My student would work hard in order to earn the chance to watch the slideshow. I would write an activity on his schedule and then list "watch Pookha video" afterwards, and my student would complete his work while behaving more appropriately. The pictures and videos also helped him walk calmly in the hallways and behave on the bus, as he watched them on his iPod. Pookha was instrumental in changing his behavior! If one therapy animal can bring so much unconditional love to one classroom, imagine what even more of them could do! 

2012-02-26 20:52:47 UTC
Cheri Westin-Swenson

Pet-assisted therapy has become an accepted and important adjunct in the promotion of human health. There are numerous clinical studies, as well as a multitude of anecdotal stories, that establish the benefits that animals provide for humans. Being part of an animal-assisted therapy team can also be a very enjoyable activity for the participants and recipients.

Finding an organization where pet-human therapy teams can train, educate and commune are rare. North Star Therapy Animals fills
a unique niche in that it provides access to the health-care community to contact and recruit pet therapy teams, as well as nurtures the teams to function at a high-level of participation in pet-assisted therapy activities. I have been a Delta Society Pet-Partner with three wonderful pets for 9 years. Diva Valentine and Viktor are German shepherds, and Leonardo DiCatmeow is a gentle giant cat. We have participated in a variety of settings including hospice, school reading programs, visits with seniors and hospital visits. Each setting is so rewarding in its own unique way.

Having a formal website to educate the public, inform future facilities who are interested in utilizing pet therapy teams, and attract therapy teams would be such an asset to our North Start Therapy Animals Organization. Please consider us for this generous award.

2012-02-27 04:15:51 UTC
Holly Dundore

I have had therapy dogs for over 12 years, 4 registered with Delta - one which is now retired. I am an original NSTA member. This organization is fabulous. It holds meetings with guest speakers every two months and offers a fun summer picnic for members and their families. It's a great way to meet other therapy animal teams. NSTA is a wonderful resource where members are connected with facilities looking for therapy animal services. I have so many stories I could tell, but this one from the Ronald McDonald House is a favorite. On a repeat visit, a family thanked me over and over again for helping their son. They explained that their son was supposed to “make a wish”, but he could not think of anything to wish for until he met my Briard, Giaco. Apparently, he went up to his room that night and told his parents he wanted a dog just like Giaco. He planned to decorate his entire room around his new service dog. He wanted a bed for his dog and a matching one for himself, along with a dog-themed wallpaper border. He finally discovered what he wanted most and had something to be excited about. His parents told me this young man hardly ever spoke until he realized what he wanted for his “make a wish”. As far as I know, his wish was granted and he finally did get a well trained dog. Everyone involved in therapy animal services is a winner! The animal gets the attention it craves, the client (patient) is comforted by the animal, and the owner of the animal is rewarded more than you will ever know .... This is truly one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

2012-02-27 16:32:09 UTC
Linda Carey, LSW- Minnesota Veterans Home, Minneapolis

I want to add to all the wonderful things people have said about Therapy Animals. Barb and Andy (therapy dog) have been blessing the Veterans at the home for several years. It touches your heart when you observe a person who can not speak or communicate, smile and reach out when Andy comes to visit. The human/dog bond is essential in my life as well as the lives of many seniors. We even have an adopted dog who lives on one of the units. His name is Henry and he even has a care plan. Barb and Andy are very welcomed to this facility and the comfort that they provide to many is priceless. Thank you to all who take time out to share your specially trained companions with those that have lost contact with this part of their lives.

2012-02-28 03:31:04 UTC
Deb Jacobson, Special Education Teacher, Schumann Elementary , Orono Schools

My students' faces would light up on days that Pookha came to read with them. Even those students who didn't like to read would eagerly select a book to read with her and Wendy. They enjoyed the opportunity to "read" with a friend who didn't judge them on their abilities, but instead offered a safe comfortable experience to support their reading. Some of them would save the book that they started reading with Poohka to finish it on the next visit. The bond that grew between my students and Wendy and Pookha was very positive and rewarding. Their visits were priceless!

2012-02-28 23:56:52 UTC
Caroline Perkins, Special Education Teacher - Drummond Elementary School

It has been my good fortune to work with a therapy team from North Star Therapy Animals. I first met Wendy and Pookha at our local library in Cable, WI, and immediately saw the value of the work they were doing. They would sit with the most reluctant readers, patiently listening, sometimes coaching, always supportive.  I took the opportunity to ask Wendy if she would consider visiting my school, Drummond Elementary, where I am a special education teacher.  Even though it meant a monthly commute from Minneapolis to northern Wisconsin, Wendy said yes!  I was so excited, but not nearly as excited as the teachers who had Pookha visit their classrooms for the next year and a half. Pookha came regularly and was greeted with hugs and kisses, not only from the children with whom she read, but from everyone in the building. During her visits, time was doled out, 15 minutes per student, so that everyone would have a chance to read with Pookha.  All the students loved her, but I believe it was the reluctant readers who benefited the most from her visits. We're so happy that Wendy and Pookha introduced Drummond to the wonderful world of therapy animals!

Our Mission

The mission of North Star Therapy Animals is to positively impact the lives of countless individuals throughout the Twin Cities area by providing high-quality therapy animal teams and services to a wide variety of facilities. WE ARE ACCOMPLISHING OUR MISSION BY: 1. Being a leader in the Twin Cities therapy animal community 2. Encouraging and motivating our members to visit with their animal partner at least once per month 3. Actively promoting the benefits of therapy animal services to facilities and the general public 4. Providing training, testing, and on-going education to ensure the highest-quality service from our teams 5. Establishing and maintaining professional relationships with a wide variety of facilities throughout the Twin Cities area in an effort to implement new, and grow existing, therapy animal programs 6. Connecting registered therapy animal teams with facilities looking for therapy animal services 7. Increasing the supply of registered therapy animal teams to meet the growing demand