Jared Wadley is the volunteer president of Therapaws of Michigan, a canine-assisted therapy program dedicated to promoting and fostering the human-animal bond in therapeutic and educational settings. The organization primarily serves Washtenaw County, focusing on helping children at Mott Children’s Hospital.
“On Fridays, I see children and their families before or after surgery,” described Wadley. “With either dog, I’ll walk outside of their room to see if they would like a visit. If they agree, I’ll allow them to pet the dog. I share information about the dog, therapy work in general and offer dog training tips.”
Wadley added that the dogs play an important role for both him and his patients.
“I consider myself a ‘dog whisperer’ because I love helping people have a greater appreciation for their dog with training or exercising. I also see children who have been at the hospital for an extended period. It’s a fun way to break up their day in bed with someone other than doctors and nurses.”
Wadley, a registered therapy dog handler, has been working with his dogs, Bella since March 2010 and Legend for the past 18 months. Bella is a 10-year-old blue Merle Collie that Wadley rescued at age two.
“Legend, a six-year-old Sable Collie,” said Wadley, “came from a breeder who had him in dog shows for several years. Older folks who see him like to say, ‘Hey, it’s Lassie’ from the TV series.”
A family affair
Wadley’s children are getting in on the act. Jordan, 15, a 10th grader at Arbor Prep High School, has been a junior therapy dog handler since age 12, and Wadley’s youngest will soon join him.
“My 13-year-old son Devin, 8th grader at South Arbor Charter Academy, will be tested this summer to become a junior therapy dog handler, and we expect him to begin his volunteer work at the VA in the fall,” said Wadley.
In addition to Mott Children’s Hospital, UM Hospital and the VA Hospital, the Wadleys have other venues that they visit with the dogs.
Legend is the kind of furry friend that kids can talk to.
“We’ve been to local libraries and schools for the READ program,” said Wadley. “We also participate in de-stressing events at the University of Michigan, where students go during exam time to interact with therapy dogs.”
Therapy dogs have beneficial effects on humans by, “lowering blood pressure and anxiety, reducing boredom, lessening feelings of isolation and by providing emotional support,” said Wadley. “We often see children who are crying or sad immediately become happy and calm when either Bella or Legend enter the room. With the READ program, a child who reads to a dog feels comfortable and confident because neither the handler nor dog judges the child’s reading ability.”
Wadley has a very special memory from helping a child at the University of Michigan.
“One of the best moments happened when Bella and I regularly visited the UM Cardiovascular Center during our first two years of therapy work,” described Wadley. “We entered a dimly lit room with a patient who had a heart transplant. An eight-year-old boy was playing with his action figures and cars on the bed, but immediately smiled when Bella approached.”
“We talked to him about dogs and the responsibilities involved in pet ownership, such as feeding, exercising and training. After our brief chat, I gave him one of Bella’s business cards. Before we left the room, he confidently shook my hand and said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like you and have a dog just like Bella.’ Years later, it’s still an emotional moment for me to have this young person, whom I had never met, say this about a visit with Bella and me. I’ll never forget it.”
A lifelong mission
Wadley became involved with volunteer work, in part, because of his parents. They always believed in giving back to the community, so Wadley began volunteering at a young age as an altar server in church. Then, he decided to dedicate his life to service.
“I joined Big Brothers/Big Sisters to mentor a 5th grader,” remembered Wadley. “We would spend time together about twice a month for several years until I moved to Michigan in 2002. He and I still keep in contact. I also spent Thursday afternoons at a soup kitchen, mentoring boys whose mothers were in a home with domestic violence. We would take the boys bowling, spend time at parks or have lunch as a way to build their confidence.”
When he moved back to the Midwest to work at UM, Wadley was looked for opportunities to help young people. He served as a mentor for UM freshmen, and was a guest speaker at his alma mater, Bowling Green State University.
Wadley and Legend light up a room.
“In 2008, I walked through the UM Diag when I saw a group of people with therapy dogs and service dogs,” recalled Wadley. “As a dog lover, I learned what was involved with therapy work, and I thought it would be a cool experience to visit children in the hospital. Years later, I feel as if I’m making a difference in helping people feel better. Sharing my dog with others is rewarding and gives me a greater appreciation about life. Plus, with my son Jordan accompanying me to the VA Hospital, it allows us to bond in volunteer work. I’m looking forward to the fall when my son Devin becomes a junior therapy dog handler, which will give us three handlers in one household.”
Wadley, a senior public relations representative at the University of Michigan, hopes that others will embrace volunteerism.
“I want to share my knowledge with young people so that they can excel in whatever they want to do,” said Wadley. “Perhaps the time I spend with them will encourage them to become mentors or volunteers as adults.”
Therapaws of Michigan, P.O. Box 92, Dexter
firstname.lastname@example.org | therapaws.org