Junior Handlers

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therapy dog

Devin Wadley, 18, Michigan
La Salle University (junior)

I initially wanted to become a therapy dog handler because my dad, Jared Wadley, and I love dogs. A handler for many years, he often shared positive stories — and occasionally, photos — about his time visiting hospitals, schools and facilities with our therapy collies, Bella and Legend. When he asked me if I wanted to become a junior handler, it was a no brainer: it became an opportunity for us to share our dogs with others in the community.

I’ve participated in numerous reading events at libraries and schools. I also would occasionally visit the local VA Hospital — sometimes with my brother, who is also a junior handler. We would switch off handling Legend while walking the hallway.

In fact, my favorite experiences involved VA Hospital visits. Whenever we took Legend into the room, the patients’ faces would instantly light up. They loved his company, in part, because he resembled the TV show dog Lassie. They also missed seeing their own dogs. It’s been tremendously rewarding to make someone’s day better with a therapy dog visit.

Volunteering as a junior handler will have life-long benefits. For example, I’m a more compassionate listener, which will serve me well as a social worker. Perhaps I might have my own therapy dog to use in a practice to help teens feel more comfortable with the setting. I’m also more appreciative of my life because I often see those who are less fortunate. Overall, this experience has shown me the importance of volunteering. I plan to continue serving my community for many decades.

Devin Wadley
therapy dog

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.

Jordan Wadley
therapy puppy

I started as a Junior Handler as a volunteer opportunity for Boy Scouts, but quickly Therapy Dogs eclipsed Boy Scouts. It was clear to me that our weekly visits heartened the patients in a way that was so meaningful to both them and to me. On top of that the therapy dog teams were a interesting and dedicated group of people and dogs to get to know!

Being a Junior Handler with TDInc./ATD has had long term benefits for me that I could never have seen coming. As a kid with a congenital heart condition, going to a hospital to help patients, instead of being a patient, fundamentally changed my relationship with hospitals. Additionally, this kind of regular interaction with patients and medical staff at a relatively young age gave me added confidence in a hospital setting later in life when I went on and did Clinical Pastoral Education as part of my seminary training.

Chris Halverson and Baby

My name is Ashlyn Nunnally, I’m 16 years old, and my Therapy Dog is a 4 year old female Golden Retriever named Piper.

I first became interested in becoming a Therapy Dog team because I believed my dog had the most wonderful personality for therapy visits, and I wanted to serve my community. I felt like she needed a job, and bringing joy to peoples’ lives with her was a great way to accomplish both.

Unfortunately, due to the virus, therapy visits have been harder to access. However, we had a wonderful experience at a physical therapy office, and it was great to see Piper cheering her new-found friends on with their treatment. It brought a smile to the patients, myself, and also Piper’s face. That’s been my most favorite event.

I believe that becoming a Junior Handler with Piper with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs has shown me that I have a strong passion for Working Dogs. I think being a Therapy Dog handler will help me pursue my potential career of training Service Dogs, and working with disabled people.

Ashlyn Nunnally and Piper

I became a handler because I have seen how happy people get when they get to interact with dogs or just even see the dog. I have organized routine visits at my great grandmas assisted living homes and the people light up every time we come. For many of the people have great memories of when they had dogs or animals back when they were kids. One of my favorite experiences I have had so far was when we went to the memory care unit at my great grandmas facility and this older gentleman thought it was his dog and wanted to take Tahoe my dog to his room to take a nap!

These experiences will help me as a human but also in my future career in medicine because I really want to get therapy dogs involved to help people through many things that may happen in the medical field.

Thank you,
Lexi Keller

Lexi Keller

I was inspired to become a Junior handler because my fabulous Grandma (or Gigi, Diane Rima) was always doing something amazing with her dog. I grew up learning from her and about what she did with pet therapy. She inspired me to train my golden retriever. When I was old enough I tested and am hoping to get to do so much for people with my special pup.

While testing to become certified, Callie (my pup) and I did a Parade at Sierra Vista Hospital for the staff and nurses. Additionally, I went to Creston Village, a local senior community and visited with some of the people there. It was so great to listen to the stories they shared about the dogs they had had. This past year Callie and I haven’t gotten to do a lot in our community but I hope to get started again with ATD and Callie is too!

Everything I’ve done with Callie through ATD has been such a great experience. But one of my favorites is when we were testing. We were at the park and visited some young kids that were playing. It was so life-giving to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they saw the dogs give them a high five or twirl in a circle. I loved watching my dog’s reaction to it and how fun it was for her to do something new for someone. It was so special to see how much of an impact we made on these young lives.

By participating with ATD it will impact me because I will be around so many different people and animals which will help me in the future in knowing how to work in a community with new things. I am thankful that by doing this opportunities could come up for future jobs and experiences. I am glad that by doing this it provides me with such a great space to grow in.

– Jr. Handler Kai Stoltzfus
Dog- Callie

Kai Stoltzfus and Callie

My name is Caytlin Smith.

1)I wanted to become a handler because I love working with dogs and people. The patient’s or student’s face lights up when you enter the room. I have always loved dogs so much and loved the therapy dog visits at my school. I wanted to be apart of something using my dog to bring joy to these hurting people as my dog brings joy to me.

2) I have just recently gotten certified, but so far I have had the privilege to go to a therapy dog gathering in the park, a visit in that park, and a preschool visit.

3) I really liked being able to meet with other therapy dog handlers (and therapy dogs) and get to know them and have some fun with them. I also really enjoyed the preschool visit we did. The kids absolutely loved it! One kid who was normally terrified of dogs said that our dog (Ruby) made him happy.

4) This type of volunteering is great experience for working with both dogs and people. The skills you learn as a therapy dog handler can help you in whatever career you go in to. This type of volunteering is something colleges are looking for. By doing this, you can have volunteer hours in your college application.

Caytlin Smith