Norbert gets a spring in his step every time he sees the opportunity to put a smile on someone’s face.
While the pocket-sized 7-year-old Chihuahua, Cairn terrier and Lhasa Apso mix may weigh in at only three pounds, he sure has a huge heart with tons of love to give.
In fact, his mommy, author Julie Steines — who is married to Home and Family star Mark Steines (thanks to Norbert’s introduction while making an appearance on the show!) —likes to call him the “magical little creature” because of his ability to instantly light up a life, particularly at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he has been coined the tiniest therapy dog out of more than 100 enrolled in the hospital’s Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program.
“[The best part of Norbert’s work] is seeing the way that people respond to him,” Steines says about Norbert — her first dog — who “can change the energy around” while participating in patients’ physical and occupational therapy sessions, distracting them during long chemotherapy or dialysis treatments and, overall, aiding in pain management strategies.
“The fan mail that he gets just brings me to tears sometimes the way he affects peoples’ lives that he hasn’t even met,” she adds. “It’s truly special.”
No matter how good or bad a patient’s day is, or what scary procedure may lie ahead of them, when Steines knocks on the often-decorated door with Norbert in her arms, any frown is instantly turned upside down. And PEOPLE got the incredible opportunity to witness the Norbert Effect first-hand.
Las Vegas native Michael Aldrich, 12, traveled to Los Angeles nearly three weeks ago to seek cancer treatment at CHLA. For Aldrich, no day has been complete without a visit from a therapy dog to give him the comfort of having a furry pal to hang with while missing his own back home.
Making himself right at home during his visit, Norbert hopped up (or was picked up) onto Aldrich’s bed and instantly started to lighten the mood in the room. While responding to commands as unique as him (his command for ‘stay?’ Namaste. ‘Lie down?’ Zen. And ‘paw?’ Love.), Aldrich and his newfound four-legged friend exchanged many high fives and kisses.
“It makes me very happy because now it’s just boring here,” Aldrich says about how the Dog Therapy Program at the hospital has changed his stay.
And his supportive parents, Nick and Jessica, couldn’t be more grateful, as well.
“It puts Michael in a better mood because he’s been here for almost three weeks [and] it’s great way to keep his spirits up,” says his father.
His mother adds: “When we ask him what the best part of his day was and the dogs have come, then that’s usually it.”
With a social media following of over 1 million and a big heart stuck inside a forever puppy-sized body, Norbert is a true entrepreneur who strives to make a difference. Everything Norbert and Steines do is “philanthropic by nature,” she and her mother collaborated to publish a series of three children’s books about Norbert, and he also has a sold out plush toy in partnership with Toys For Tots.
“For every plush toy that gets purchased we donate one [to a child in need], which is amazing,” says Steines.
Together, Norbert and his therapy dog friends bring the benefits of dog therapy to roughly 1,000 young patients every month. This program is funded entirely by donations, and you can support Norbert’s work by contributing to his CHLA donations page.
“We have a goal to help the CHLA establish an endowment for the dog therapy program because this is a non-profit hospital,” Steines says of their plans for the future. “This program is entirely funded by donations, so it would be an amazing thing for this program to carry on forever without having to worry about finance.”