What’s it like for a family to work with volunteer Therapy Dogs? The Wadleys weigh in with their experiences.

In this 35th episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I spoke with Jared Wadley, News Magazine Editor for Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and his sons Jordan and Devin about their experiences with their past, present, and future volunteer Therapy Dogs Bella, Legend, and Bree. After hearing their story, it’s safe to say the Wadleys love Collies and volunteering through pet therapy.

Jared discovered the opportunity to volunteer with his dogs after moving from California to Michigan and seeking out ways to help his new community. At the time he had two Shetland Sheepdogs who he didn’t feel would be up to the task, so he adopted Bella with the goal to pursue dog therapy together. Bella’s temperament was what Jared was looking for, and she had previous obedience training, but she needed a bit of socializing in order to feel confident around other dogs. When Bella let Jared know she was ready to retire, he adopted Legend, a former show dog in need of a new home. Unlike Bella, Legend was well socialized but lacked basic obedience cues. At 12 years old, Legend is now nearing retirement, but the Wadleys are already working on their newet member of the family and future Therapy Dog: Bree.

Bree is the first puppy that Jared’s sons have had and he is enjoying utilizing this period of working from home part time to combine the socialization Bella needed with the obedience cues that he taught Legend. While Bree’s first goal will be replacing Legend, Jared hopes that in two year’s time they will be able to travel the country as a Crisis Response Team.

Along the way, Jared’s sons join him with the dogs as Junior Handlers where they were able to learn how to feel confident talking to people from many walks of life while sharing their dogs and taking note of the impact they were able to make. In fact, Devin was so inspired that he is now a Social Work student with his sights set on Animal Assisted Therapy.

If you’re ready to hear from the Wadleys about their wide variety of experiences, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • How Jared discovered Therapy Dogs and encouraged his sons to join him as Junior Handlers.
  • What it has been like to train three dogs to volunteer in a variety of settings.
  • The unexpected benefits of volunteering as a Junior Handler.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [00:56] Devin, Jordan, and Jared introduce themselves and share how long and where they’ve worked with their volunteer therapy dogs.
  • [02:12] How Jared discovered more about Therapy Dogs during Disabilities Week at the University of Michigan.
  • [02:59] Jared talks about why he didn’t think his Shetland Sheepdogs would do well in animal assisted activities.
  • [03:12] A year later, Jared adopted Bella the Collie as a two-year-old rescue and talks about how he socialized her at pet stores, home improvement stores, with neighbors, and around other people.
  • [03:53] Why Bella’s dog reactivity was important to resolve before volunteering.
  • [04:54] Devin shares that he was too young to work with Bella but talks about his process going through the test with Legend and learning how to talk with people.
  • [05:23] Jordan shares how when he first started working with Bella he learned that he needed to build his own relationship with her in order to volunteer together as a Junior Handler team.
  • [05:57] We talk about how just being in the same home with the dog isn’t enough to build the relationship your dog needs for a volunteer therapy dog handler bond.
  • [06:56] Devin talks about his love of dogs and why seeing his dad and brother volunteer made him want to as well.
  • [07:59] Jared shares how he knew that Bella was getting ready to retire and how it made a difference to bring in Legend as a younger dog who could handle the 2-3 mile walks while visiting the VA hospital.
  • [10:03] Bella switched to de-stressing events at the University of Michigan as those visits required less walking.
  • [10:34] Jared shares why he knew it was the right time to bring Bree home and begin training her to take Legend’s place.
  • [11:05] The importance of spending quality time with a puppy and how they need more attention than older dogs.
  • [12:22] What it’s been like to train a puppy after previously training two adult rescue dogs as therapy animals.
  • [13:23] Jared talks about what he was looking for in his next dog when he found Bree.
  • [14:18] Jordan shares why he loved volunteering at the University of Michigan de-stressing events.
  • [14:57] Devin shares how he enjoyed bringing Legend with him to volunteer at his school.
  • [15:30] Jared enjoys both volunteering at the Children’s hospital as well as with the veterans at the VA hospital.
  • [16:26] What it’s like to be a Junior Handler and how Jared coached Jordan and Devin on their communication.
  • [18:22] How Jared used his background in public relations and journalism to get involved as the News Media Editor for Alliance of Therapy Dogs and what he’s enjoyed about that experience.
  • [20:35] How ATD is working on campaigns to encourage more young people to be Junior Handlers.
  • [21:26] Devin shares his goals to get into clinical counseling through animal-assisted social work.
  • [22:54] Jordan advises you that if you want to work with volunteer therapy dogs to go all in and have fun with it.
  • [23:12] Devin agrees with Jordan and encourages prospective handlers not to be afraid to volunteer.
  • [23:33] Jared reminds everyone to spend quality time with their dogs whether or not they want to volunteer.
  • [24:30] Bree’s path forward towards potentially becoming a Crisis Response Dog and what that requires.
  • [25:35] We talk about how you can’t lose in training your dog and building a relationship with them.
  • [26:08] Direct face time with Legend for those watching the video recording.
  • [26:22] I make a cheeky remark about Legend having a legendary life.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a listen and let me know which part you found the most helpful!

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