Alumni Magazine article about Pawsitivity

From the Carleton College Alumni Magazine, “The Voice”: 

One Day Apprentice: Julie Greene Coleman ’92 and Tomkin Coleman ’91

By John Nolter

One Day Apprentice

The small bungalow on a St. Paul corner lot has gone to the dogs—and that was precisely the plan. It’s where Julie Greene Coleman ’92 and Tomkin Coleman ’91 live and operate their nonprofit organization, Pawsitivity, which trains rescue dogs to be service companions. “Rescuing dogs to rescue people,” says Julie.

The Colemans currently share their house with three dogs. Quinn, a golden retriever, is their family dog. Greta, a Newfoundland, and Dandy, a greyhound, are training to be service dogs. Since it was founded in 2012, Pawsitivity has graduated 23 dogs. It takes roughly a year for a dog to complete training. At times, a dog is not suited to the work and, while there have been no failures at Pawsitivity, dogs sometimes have what Tomkin refers to as a “career change” and are adopted out as pets.

Julie and Tomkin are both accredited trainers, but Julie does most of the hands-on work while Tomkin focuses on fund-raising and other aspects of running a nonprofit. “When we first start training a dog, we limit the sessions to a few minutes,” says Julie. “The dogs are ‘learning to learn’ and often tire quickly. We make sure to end on a high note and give them time to rest and process what they’ve learned. As their training advances, we have longer, more complicated training sessions. We keep logs for each dog so that we can track their progress and watch for what comes easily to them and what they struggle with.”

Although Julie and Tomkin knew each other at Carleton and had mutual friends, they never dated. When the two were reacquainted at Julie’s 15th reunion in 2007, they quickly became inseparable and married in April 2008.

Carleton also has played an important role in how Tomkin, a theater major, and Julie, a psychology and art history major, approach their work. Tomkin remembers theater professor Ed Sostek telling him that breaking new ground—in any profession—works best when someone with vision leads the way.

And Julie learned an important lesson from art history professors Lauren Soth and Alison Kettering: Don’t what’s in front of you—think about what or who hasn’t been included. Which questions haven’t been asked or addressed?

“A huge part of our job is solving problems, adapting, and thinking critically,” says Julie. “Carleton taught us those skills and gave us the confidence to form a nonprofit.”

“We love helping people reach their potential to live fuller, more independent lives with the assistance of a service dog,” adds Tomkin. “We also love rescuing dogs and making their lives better.