Jordan Wadley, 21, Michigan
University of Michigan (senior)
I have been part of ATD since age 13, which made me one of the youngest members at the time when the organization lowered the minimum age requirement to become a junior handler. At that young age, I wanted to become a junior handler to make a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes, our society takes for granted that people need a bit of kindness in their day. Five minutes with a therapy dog like Legend, who is well-behaved and gentle, can have a huge impact on someone’s life. Plus, being a junior handler means a bonding experience not only with the therapy dog, but the parent (my father, who is also an ATD member) who accompanies the teen on visits.
My regular assignment involved visiting the dedicated military men and women who received medical care at the VA Hospital. They appreciated our appearances because they didn’t always get visitors beyond immediate family members and friends. I’ve also taken Legend to one-time events at the University of Michigan, which has hosted de-stressing events and “Wellness Woof.” At Wellness Woof, which promotes mental health and fitness, the college students excitedly doted on Legend and other therapy dogs. Many of them missed their own dogs at home.
My favorite experience happened at the University of Michigan’s Trotter House, a place where students go to study and gather. During a de-stressing event, a student said she felt the stress of preparing for exams and completing papers. When she knelt to pet Legend, he rolled on his back — something he usually doesn’t do when he’s on therapy assignments. As she rubbed his belly, it seemed as if her entire body relaxed. Legend then sat up and she hugged him tight around his neck.
Serving as a junior handler for more than four years has been priceless. I’m uncertain about my career path, but I know that talking to people during these therapy visits at an early age significantly improved my confidence and public speaking skills. This experience also taught me to be patient and attentive — traits that are always important in the workforce when interacting with co-workers and customers.