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Elizabeth Kjellstrand Hartwig

Elizabeth Hartwig and Holly
Dr. Elizabeth Hartwig and Holly

Founder & Director

The Animal-Assisted Counseling (AAC) Academy officially began in May 2016, yet there were many years of preparation!

Dr. Elizabeth Kjellstrand Hartwig, LMFT-S, LPC-S, RPT-S, has been passionate about working with animals since as long as she can remember. As a counselor educator and researcher, she specializes in animal-assisted counseling research and instruction. She is the Founder and Director of the Texas State University Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy.

In 2014 Dr. Hartwig was awarded grant funding to conduct a randomized comparison trial on animal-assisted counseling with youth ages 10 to 18. She developed the Human-Animal Resilience Therapy (HART) curriculum for this study and ran the study during the 2014-2015 school year. As part of the HART study, Dr. Hartwig trained 10 practitioners and therapy dogs to provide AAC to youth. The HART study paved the way to develop the AAC Academy, a training program for professionals and graduate students.

Texas State University offers an ideal location for the AAC Academy with large classrooms, clinic space, and AAC supplies to support training practitioners and potential therapy animals. Please check out our website to learn more about the AAC Academy!

AAC Trainers

The AAC Academy is blessed to have highly qualified and experienced trainers to support practitioners in their journey to becoming Certified Animal-Assisted Practitioners. Let us introduce you to our fabulous trainers!

Kim Sullivan

Kim Sullivan & Rocky

Lead Trainer

Kim Sullivan, MA, LPC, RPT™, received her BS in Secondary Science Education from the University of Texas at Austin and her MA in Professional Counseling from Texas State University. She and her canine counseling partner Gordon are a Certified Animal-Assisted Counseling Team, working with children, adolescents, teens, and adults through Kim's private practice, Heart and Soul Counseling in Round Rock, Texas. With over 10 years of miniature equine training and volunteering, she is also in the process of incorporating her miniature donkey and miniature horse as counseling partners.

Laura Fennell

Laura Fennell

Dog Trainer 

Laura is a dog trainer in South Austin and the owner of Fuzzy Matters Dog Training and Enrichment. She is professionally certified, holding a CPDT-KA from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She is also an AKC-approved Canine Good Citizen evaluator, an AKC Fit Dog instructor, and serves as training coordinator for her agility club. Laura teaches classes in basic manners, trick training, disc dog, and dog agility. In addition to recreational training, she provides private training and behavior counseling and particularly loves working with shy dogs and reactive dogs. Laura's approach to dog training is to lead with empathy and a science-, evidence-based framework to help people improve their relationships with their dogs. She likes to emphasize enrichment as the big picture and training within the context of that because a dog who has all their enrichment needs met is a better-balanced dog--emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally. By extension--their peoples' lives are also enriched. Fundamentally, Laura wants to make the world a kinder, happier place through dog training. Laura shares her life with three dogs—Olive, Harper Lee, and Moxzilla Cthulhu (AKA Moxie). She and her border collie Harper are currently exploring canine musical freestyle. Their goal is to develop a dance routine to Uptown Funk.

Cynthia Hodges

Cynthia Hodges & Texas Red

Cat Trainer

Cynthia Hodges and her feline partner, Texas Red, were the first cat team to complete the AAC Academy at Texas State University. Cynthia co-developed the Cat Team Evaluation with Dr. Hartwig. She provides training for cat teams that includes clicker training for skills, feline communication, and identifying resources needed for cat partner interventions. In 2023 she co-presented on Cat-Assisted Counseling at the International Society for Anthrozoology Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

AASC Trainers

Wanda Montemayor

Wanda Montemayor & Chango

Wanda Montemayor is a Licensed Professional Counselor - Supervisor, Art Therapy Certified Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor™. She served as a school counselor for 15 years. She was awarded the Austin Independent School District Counselor of the Year in 2019, selected from a group of over 300 counselors. In 2018 Wanda and her therapy dog, Chango, graduated from the Texas State University Animal Assisted Counseling (AAC) Academy. She and Chango have been providing animal-assisted school counseling to students in schools for the past three years. In 2021 Wanda joined the AAC Academy training team as the Animal-Assisted School Counseling trainer. She currently is the Director of CommunityArts, a private practice in Austin, TX providing counseling to children, teens, adults, and families.

Nicole Lozo

Nicole & Emma Rose

Nicole is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Registered Play Therapist (RPT), National Certified Counselor (NCC), and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP). She received both her Master's in Educational Psychology and a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a graduate of the Texas State Animal-Assisted Academy. Nicole has been an educator and school counselor in Austin ISD for 22 years working with elementary, middle, and high school students.

AAC Research

Our goal in the AAC Academy is not only to provide quality AAC instruction, but to move the field forward in evidence-based practice. Dr. Hartwig is an active researcher in the field of AAC. Here is an overview of Dr. Hartwig's publications and national/international presentations:


Canine-Assisted Interventions book

Dr. Elizabeth Hartwig is co-author with Dr. John-Tyler Binfet of the book Canine-Assisted Interventions: A Comprehensive Guide to Credentialing Therapy Dog Teams

Publisher description: "Covering principles of therapy dog team training, assessment, skills, and ongoing monitoring, Canine-Assisted Interventions provides guidance on the most evidence-based methods for therapy dog team welfare, training, and assessment.

The authors offer a linear approach to understanding all aspects of the screening, assessment, and selection of dog-handler teams by exploring the journey of dog therapy teams from assessment of canines and handlers to the importance of ongoing monitoring, recredentialing, and retirement. In addition to reviewing key findings within the field of human-animal interactions, each chapter emphasizes skills on both the human and dog ends of the leash and makes recommendations for research-informed best practices. To support readers, the book culminates with checklists and training resources to serve as a quick reference for readers.

This book will be of great interest for practitioners, in-service professionals, and researchers in the fields of canine-assisted interventions and counseling" (Routledge, 2019).


Hartwig, E. K. (2020, September). Animal-assisted school counseling: How animal counseling teams can improve student success and wellbeing. International Society for Anthrozoology Conference, Online conference based out of Liverpool, UK.


Hartwig, E. K. (2020, September). Promoting client wellness in animal-assisted counseling through measurable standards. International Society for Anthrozoology Conference, Online conference based out of Liverpool, UK.


Binfet, J. T., Hartwig, E. K., & Green, F. L. L. (2020, September). Taking off the vest: When should a therapy dog be retired? International Society for Anthrozoology Conference, Online conference based out of Liverpool, UK.


Hartwig, E. K. (2019, October). Canine-assisted play therapy with children and teens. Association for Play Therapy International Conference, Dallas, TX.


Hartwig, E. K. (2019, June). Animal-assisted play therapy. International Play Therapy Study Group, Wroxton, UK.


Hartwig, E. K. (2018, July). There’s a dog in my session: Practitioner perspectives on animal-assisted counseling. International Society for Anthrozoology, Sydney, Australia.


Binfet, J. T., Hartwig, E. K., Silas, H., Harris, N., & McKay, C. (2018, July). Therapy canines: Screening and Assessment. Safeguarding well-being and innovative programming. International Society for Anthrozoology, Sydney, Australia.


Hartwig, E. K., & Binfet, J. T. (2017, June). Best practices for screening and selection of potential therapy canine teams: Preliminary findings from a systematic review of U.S. and Canadian AAT programs. International Society for Anthrozoology, Davis, CA


Hartwig, E. K. (2016, July). Enhancing the evidence base of canine-assisted therapy. International Association for Human-Animal Interaction Organizations, Paris, France


Hartwig, E. K. (2015, October). Canine-assisted play therapy: Hope and healing with kids and canines. Association for Play Therapy Conference, Atlanta, GA.