Meet the Founders

Stew Nordensson (1937-1999)

Stewart & Coqui

Mary George

Lydia Kelley

Our Founders

TOP DOG would not exist without its late founder, Stew Nordensson (1937-1999).  His vision, courage, and generosity were an inspiration to everyone involved with TOP DOG.  Mary George, Lydia Kelley, Kathy Hurst and Diann Belleranti are TOP DOG’s co-founders.

Stew Nordensson was among the first to conceive the idea of teaching people with disabilities how to train their own service dogs. He had Cerebral Palsy, a brain injury which affected his speech and muscle control, and he was in a wheelchair for most of his life. Yet, in spite of such challenges, Stew trained dogs for over 50 years and earned several American Kennel Club degrees: Companion Dog (CD), Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) and Utility Dog (UD), which is the highest level of achievement possible. Stew also trained and certified four of his own service dogs.  He knew that if he could do it, he could teach others how to do it too!

Lydia Kelley served as TOP DOG’s Training Director. For more than 30 years, she has trained dogs and has served as an instructor for several Tucson canine clubs.  She co-authored TOP DOG’s TEAMWORK training books series with Stew Nordennson and directed their filming and conversion into DVD, VHS, and Books on Tape.  Lydia has also published numerous articles in major dog training magazines, including “Off-Lead.”

Mary George has been actively involved with dog training since 1979 and recently retired from TOP DOG’s Board of Directors.  In spite of her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Mary trained and certified four of her own service dogs, has taught all levels of TOP DOG classes, as well as helping several teams achieve certification as a Training Assistant (TA).  Mary continues to teach classes, make public presentations and demonstrations on behalf of TOP DOG.

Kathy Hurst and Diann Belleranti were instrumental in helping get TOP DOG off the ground. Diann’s contacts and business knowledge helped TOP DOG secure its initial funding, and Kathy served as TOP DOG’s first Executive Director.