BAZETTA - As Yogi and his master, Nancy Olds, approach the sliding doors at the Children's Rehabilitation Center in Howland, their pace quickens.
The pair stride through the lobby on a weekly basis and the excitement for what lays ahead is visible in their body language. "This is the fun part," Olds whispers.
Inside a toy-filled room at the end of the end of a long hall, three nonverbal children wait. The moment Yogi, an 8-year-old black / golden Labrador mix, enters the room, the children's faces light up.
Yogi, soaking up the attention with a big, panting grin, stands in the middle of the room while the children gleefully surround him. While he completes his various tricks and offers the children the kind of unconditional love that is unique to trained therapy dogs, Olds smiles uncontrollably.
These are the moments that the 58-year-old Warren resident lives for.
"It is the little baby steps with some of the kids here that are really the most amazing part of this," she said.
Children's Rehabilitation Center Teacher Linda Matetich said, "The kids all open up to the dogs when they come in. They pay attention to the dogs and they are really responding to them."
For the past 15 years, Olds has trained therapy dogs, like Yogi, and certified service dogs to be placed in the homes of people with disabilities.
"My love for dogs is really what initially gave me the idea to get involved in this," Olds said. "I've owned dogs basically all of my life, starting from when I was in kindergarten or first grade."
COMMUNITY:?Trumbull County resident since 1978; lives in Bazetta
Activities / memberships: Canines for Compassion; Doggie Brigade-Akron Children's Hospital Beeghly; six-time puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence; Animal Welfare League; secretary of friends group at Mosquito Lake Dog Park
In 1997, "I read an article in a magazine about therapy dogs and thought that would be grand," she said. "At the time, there wasn't anyone locally doing this."
She contacted the Akron Children's Hospital Doggie Brigade program and began her trek down the path of being a professional puppy raiser.
In 2000, Olds joined the newly formed Canine Companions for Independence, which is a nonprofit organization that supplies assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities.
Olds' job when she receives a new puppy is to teach a list of commands that the dog must master before the dog is returned to the organization for more advanced training. To date, Olds has trained six puppies for Canine Companions for Independence.
Along with her raising of puppies, Olds also owns three therapy dogs, Yogi, Elliot and Finnegan, as well as a retired therapy dog, Hunter. With her companions by her side, Olds visits local hospitals and rehabilitation clinics regularly.
"I come to Children's Rehabilitation Center weekly and I go to Akron Children's Hospital weekly," she said. "We do reading programs, go to Fairhaven on occasions and have privileges at St. Joseph's and St. Elizabeth's."
Olds, a retired Delphi Packard employee, served as a puppy raising mentor to Vicki Simons, who nominated Olds as a Community Star.
"She is dedicated and committed to spending a lot of hours making a difference in someone's day by visiting them with her dogs," Simons said. "They provide unconditional love and the positive effects that animals can have on humans.
''While it is very rewarding, it can be emotionally and sometimes physically draining when you're visiting physically or mentally challenged children or adults in hospitals or rehab facilities or the elderly in nursing homes,'' she said. "It takes a disciplined, devoted, special person to do that week after week.''
Along with her hard work in raising service dogs, Olds was also instrumental in getting the Mosquito Lake Dog Park off of the ground.
"She and a friend were looking for a place in Cortland and there were some people looking for a place in Howland," Simons said. "They got together and she was a big player in doing that. And she also volunteers in its upkeep and is secretary of the Friends of the Dog Park group. She is very involved."
While the big projects like the Mosquito Lake Dog Park are important to Olds, she said nothing compares to the week-to-week interactions with disabled adults and children.
"That is really the most rewarding thing that I do," she said. "Having dogs around opens up conversations. I always hear dog conversations happening behind me as I'm continuing on my way. Just five minutes of petting a dog actually lowers your blood pressure and releases healing hormones in your body. Everyone can benefit from interacting with dogs."