Our volunteers are dedicated to the belief that dogs bring comfort, understanding, education, and self-confidence to the children they serve. All of our volunteers and their dogs have been evaluated by a certified dog trainer to meet a strict set of standards. The dogs are periodically reevaluated to ensure they are well mannered enough to interact with our children.

Keep reading to get to know our volunteers and their pets!


Barbara Zuckerman

1) What are some of your interests and passions?
I love hiking with George (my dog) and friends, cooking,reading, playing cards and exercising. My best times are spent playing with my grandchildren and spending time with my husband.

Barbara Zuckerman with Dog

George and Barbara

2) Why did you decide to become a Nellie’s Schoolhouse volunteer?
George can brighten anyone’s mood by just being around him. He has a special way of engaging and based on my previous experiences, I believe that he is well suited for therapy work.

3) What has your past experience with dogs been like?
I have raised golden retrievers for forty years–George is number 5. All of my goldens have been sweet, loving and wonderfully behaved though each one has had their own distinct personality.

4) What is your home and family life like?
I am also known as Mom and Grandmom! I have two sons and a lovely daughter in law and as my children are grown and out of the house, my attention is focused mainly on my home, husband and my dog, a golden retriever named George. I am a born and bred Philadelphian and wouldn’t dream of leaving this area.

5) Describe your dog.
George is very calm and intelligent with a natural curiosity. He is such a fun dog and lovely to look at–I can’t walk down the street without someone stopping me to ask to pet him. He greets friends and strangers alike, calmly and with interest.

6) Do you have any personal stories about your work with children and dogs?
Prior to my sons being born, I worked with children who had multiple disabilities and then when my boys started school, I worked as a teacher’s aide at our local elementary school. In addition, I trained two of my goldens to be nursing home visitors which brought me great joy.


Karyl J. Hurley

1) What are some of your interests and passions?
I am a veterinarian and board-certified internal medicine specialist by training and I have worked for Mars Incorporated in pet care for the last 18 years. My current position is the Director of Global Scientific Affairs where I am fortunate to have a role in supporting research into the societal benefits of human-animal interactions.

Dr. Karyl Hurley and dog

Karyl and Phoebe

2) Why did you decide to become a Nellie’s Schoolhouse volunteer?
I look forward to our weekly visits and always leave with a smile and a warm fuzzy glow for having shared Phoebe (my dog) with these amazing kids.

3)  What has your past experience with dogs been like?
Phoebe and I have been working with Nellie’s Schoolhouse (NS) for the past eight months. We have weekly visits to a special needs class at the local Middle School with Tom and his dog Gus. The children have a range of challenges, e.g. in the autistic spectrum and Down’s Syndrome, and while many are non-verbal, they clearly have a curiosity and rich sense of what animals are in their lives. Some have pets, and others have only just learned through NS how to approach a dog. Each week we work on having them greet the dogs, and then pet, groom, walk the dog on a leash and provide a treat. It’s been a rewarding journey to see the individual progress each child makes as they greet Phoebe and Gus each week. Some call her by name, and others have learned to sign ‘dog’.

4) What is your home and family life like?
I live in Downingtown with my husband, Dr. Gail Smith, also a veterinary surgeon, and our three dogs, cat and fish. I became interested in working with therapy dogs years ago and am blessed to have had two yellow Labrador retrievers who have a talent for this work. I have always had a passion for animals and there have only been rare instances in my life when I’ve been without a pet dog or cat or multiples of each.

5) Describe your dog.
My current pet, Phoebe, is a rescued 9-10(ish) year old who doesn’t really think of herself as a dog, but rather prefers the company of anyone who will give her attention. She is calm, loving and forever in need of a good scratch, and pet therapy visitations with her is a joy. I barely have to direct her at all as she seems to sense what is needed of her and she shares her company and smiles with whomever she touches. She is certified by KPETS (Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services) and is happiest when I put her vest on to take her on her visits.

6)  Do you have any personal stories about your work with children and dogs?
One young man in the class who was particularly fearful of dogs when we first began our visits would stay in the far back of the room. In time, his curiosity won out and he began to come closer, eventually approach the dogs and even brush them. Walks were a challenge as he found it particularly concerning when we made a turn and the dogs faced him directly. Now after several months, he is clearly the most improved of the class, and he now participates fully and seems to enjoy stroking and brushing the dogs and has nearly overcome his fear of feeding a treat by wearing a sock over his hand so as not to make contact with their mouths.


Kit Feldman

1) What are some of your interests and passions?
I have been a freelance writer of nonfiction for the past twenty years and continue to write for various publications, including The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine of University of Pennsylvania. In 2011, I co-authored “The Culinary Canine 30 Chefs Cook for Their Dogs” for BowTie Press (available on Amazon!). I have become known for my profiles of people and animals including Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro.

Kit Feldman with Dog

Kit and Millie

2) Why did you decide to become a Nellie’s Schoolhouse volunteer?
In my short time working with Nellie’s Schoolhouse, I have seen the power of animal therapy. Children who begin with clenched fists are often able to open their hands flat to give a dog a treat over time and many who are frightened to pet animals end up walking them around the block.

3) What has your past experience with dogs been like?
I do not think there has ever been a time in my life when my family has been  dog-less. Writing about animals seems very natural.

4) What is your home and family life like?
I have always been an animal lover and grew up in Bryn Mawr, in a large family that included dogs and horses.

5) Describe your dog.
dogs at St. James School PAMillie, my Golden Retriever, is the first dog that I have ever owned that is perfectly suited to this kind of work. She seems to have a special affinity with children and truly it was Millie who inspired me to pursue this activity. Millie’s breeder is very involved with Warrior Canine Connection, an organization near Bethesda that breeds service dogs to help veterans with PTSD, and I was, at some point, researching a book about their organization that never panned out. At some point, I would love to write about this experience, so perhaps this was all meant to be.

6) Do you have any personal stories about your work with children and dogs?
One little girl asked me for Millie’s phone number so she could call her to invite her to visit. I am a first hand witness to the strength of the human animal bond and feel privileged to be able to follow Millie wherever she takes me.


Lynn Manning

1) What are some of your interests and passions?
Whether I’m walking my dog Lucy at Haverford College or hiking in Arizona, I enjoy being outdoors. I also love to travel, cook, and read.

Lynn and Lucy

Lynn and Lucy

2) Why did you decide to become a Nellie’s Schoolhouse volunteer?
I have only one daughter still living at home so I started looking for something meaningful to do with the little extra time I had. Volunteering for NS has been a very rewarding experience. I’ve seen firsthand how Lucy has given the children the confidence to reach out of their comfort zone. To witness the progress week after week as they learn to trust themselves and Lucy is truly remarkable.

3) What has your past experience with dogs been like?
I have always had dogs in my life. Lucy is my first Golden Retriever and she is as sweet and loving as all goldens seem to be. I had two beagles when my girls were little. My dogs have been a pillow when my girls were sick, a shoulder to cry on when they were sad, and a sledding partner when no one else wanted to sled. I can’t imagine my household without a dog.

4) What is your home and family life like?
Along with my dog Lucy,  I have a wonderful husband and 4 daughters. All of my girls love dogs and each grew up sharing a bed with either a beagle or a golden. Friends often ask my husband how he survives living in a household with so many women. Perhaps we should get a male dog!

5) Describe your dog.
Lucy is a 7 year old Golden Retriever. She is white in color and has a very calm demeanor. She loves playing in the snow in the winter and digging in the sand at the beach in the summer. She thinks everyone is her friend!

6) Do you have any personal stories about your work with children and dogs?
Lucy and I have been volunteering at NS for about a year. I always leave each session knowing that we have added a little joy to the children’s day. The look on their face after they  get up the nerve to feed Lucy a treat for the first time is wonderful, especially when Lucy licks their hand clean!


Caryn Harris

1) What are some of your interests and passions?
I am passionate about children and animals. I taught special needs children for a number of years. My family jokes that I was born with the animal –loving gene, as I have loved animals for as long as I can remember! Dogs have always played a central part of my life. I also enjoy sports, politics, and the arts.

2) Why did you decide to become a Nellie’s Schoolhouse volunteer?
Nellie’s Schoolhouse is the perfect blend of my passions for kids and dogs! I truly believe that a dog can make a difference in the life of a person, and can shape the life of a child in particular. A dog loves unconditionally – has no interest in your clothes or weight or grade you got on your last test, will never tell your secrets, is patient and can see right through to your heart.

This total acceptance by a dog can add confidence and reassurance to any child (or adult), but to a special needs person it can make an even greater impact. Unfortunately many children are afraid of dogs. I believe exposing kids to dogs and teaching them the appropriate ways of greeting, handling and behaving around dogs can make a huge difference to their quality of life.

3) What has your past experience with dogs been like?
I worked with my wonderful black Labrador, Pepper with an organization called Pals for Life for about 8 years. Pepper was a therapy dog and we visited hospitals, mental health facilities, schools, libraries, Senior Citizen homes together. We made many good friends (both canine and human) and have many heartwarming stories about our visits. I volunteer at an animal shelter and work with the dogs. This is my therapy!

I am on the PA Council for the Humane Society. The council consists of volunteers who care about all animals and try to advance state policy (and sometimes federal) that benefits animals. I have also been active in a number of projects initiated by the Humane Society – for example the Pets For Life Program, which helps families in underserved areas to care for their animals. Services such as vaccinations, spay and neuter, and other services are provided at no cost.

4) What is your home and family life like?
I have a very patient husband, 3 dog-loving kids, one wonderful grandson – and a great grand dog.

5) Describe your dog.
Mamma is a beautiful black Labrador. She had had a number of litters before she joined my family, in fact she was pregnant when she was rescued. A friend of mine (from the shelter) fostered her and the puppies. She was a wonderfully caring mom and it was evident that this dog did not have a mean bone in her body. She is very attached to me and is always at my side. I have never met a person or dog that doesn’t fall in love with this wonderful dog!

6) Do you have any personal stories about your work with children and dogs?
I have many! Pepper and I visited a kindergarten class for special needs children once a month for the school year. One of the kids was non verbal and while he seemed interested in the dogs, he was not always focused on our activities. During the final visit, the other kindergarten classes (not special needs) were invited to join us. As Pepper and I walked in, this little ‘non verbal’ boy yelled, “This is Pepper. She is a black Labrador retriever!”

We also visited a program for teens who were suffering with depression. On most visits there would be one person sitting by herself in a corner. When approached and asked if she would like to pet the dog, she would indicate a definite ‘No’. In almost every case, this person would slowly become involved, and ended up enjoying the session.


Rebecca Brame, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

Evaluation and Training Director

I am certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and am a graduate of Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior. I am an approved AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Evaluator. In addition to a passion for animal behavior, I am interested in the human animal bond and hold an Animal Human Health (AHH) certification from the University of Denver.

I am the owner of RubyDog Training, where I work with individual clients to build their relationships with their dogs, and to modify unwanted behaviors. I also teach puppy classes and basic behavior classes at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA).

In my training, I emphasize communication and achieve results through positive reinforcement. Training not only teaches manners but is instrumental in strengthening the bond between animal and person. I regularly attend seminars and conferences in canine behavior, behavior modification, and training. This helps me stay up-to-date on the latest scientific findings.

I live in Philadelphia with my 2 daughters, 2 dogs, a cat and a random assortment of guinea pigs, fish and turtles.