My Journey to Becoming a Therapy Dog Handler

August 31, 2023
By Lauren Marcotte
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It was a normal day during sixth grade when my class, along with other sixth-grade classes, were brought to the library for a presentation. Little did I know that this presentation would change my life for the better. As my peers and I sat in the quiet library we noticed the sweetest looking collie named Rosebud who was patiently sitting at the front of the library with her owner Ted Slupik. Ted is a certified therapy dog handler who has written a book about his first therapy dog. After a few minutes, the presentation began. Being in my young, formative sixth-grade mind, I thought that this whole therapy dog thing was the coolest experience I had heard of. Then comes the kicker. Ted announces that he will be taking students to the nursing home with Rosebud. Immediately I knew that this was something that I had to take part in.

I patiently awaited my chance to put my name down on the list to go with Ted and Rosebud to the nursing home. There it was, the signup sheet. I carefully and neatly wrote my name down and hoped that I would be able to experience this new adventure. For the rest of the day I sat in pure excitement to run home and tell my mom about the presentation and the future adventure that I was to embark on. At 2:50 pm the final bell rang. I sprinted out the door and made it home in record time. Swinging the front door open, I called out for my mom explaining that I had exciting news. From there I told her all about Ted’s story and how I had signed up to go to the nursing home. A week or two went by and it was about time for me to go to the nursing home. I picked out my outfit the night before and went to bed excited for what was to come in the morning. At last, it was the day I was able to go with Ted and Rosebud to the nursing home. Upon arrival at the facility, I was excited to have been given this amazing opportunity. We went through various rooms and visited several residents who had photos of Rosebud framed in their rooms from previous visits Ted and Rosebud had made. After that fateful day I knew that this was something I wanted to continue. Over time I became more and more involved in the therapy dog work along with other girls in my grade. Our therapy group would go with other therapy dog handlers to the nursing home and host holiday parties, all of which were organized and hosted by Ted, his wife Bernie, and Gail Diedrichsen.

Fast forward six years, I am now certified therapy dog handler along with my mom and our dog, Rosie. Over the past six years that I have worked with Ted, Bernie, and Gail I have had many unique experiences. One of my favorite memories was when we hosted a Christmas party at the nursing home. Gail played music and wore her jolly ole Santa suit dancing around the small activity center, putting on a show for the residents. Out of the blue, I was pulled into her dance party and before I knew it we were putting on a whole show. Smiles and laughter radiated throughout the room bringing a newfound light to a sometimes somber place. Watching the residents come together to celebrate is an experience like no other. Some of the residents do not have family nearby or any family at all so in a way we, the therapy teams, become family to them. They even put up framed photos of the therapy dogs, and sometimes the other handlers and I, in their rooms. I will forever cherish the journey that I embarked on that fateful day almost six years ago. I am so thankful for Ted, Bernie, and Gail as they have given me a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I go forward in life I plan to continue to spread the word and importance of therapy dog work as well as inspire others to begin their journey as a therapy dog handler.

Lauren Marcotte is a Senior in Highschool.