Austin Dog Alliance was founded by Debi Krakar in 2006 with the dream of using dogs to help special-needs children, special-needs adults and others experiencing difficulty in day-to-day life.
One of several Alliance programs, K9 Club - Autism is a social-skill development program for children on the high end of the autism spectrum. The program is taught by Board Certified Behavior Analysts and therapy dogs who are handled by volunteers who have completed rigorous therapy-dog and other training.
Students + Canines = Opportunities for Rewarding Employment (SCORE), the Alliance’s job-skills training course, may be the only canine-assisted course of its kind in the nation. SCORE’s goal is to train special-needs adults in the skills necessary to work in dog-related careers, such as veterinary assistant, grooming and animal shelter work. The 86-hour course employs therapy dogs as well as shelter dogs to teach animal handling, vetting, grooming and dog training. As important, SCORE teaches workplace social skills, such as interviewing, being a team player and maintaining appropriate workplace relationships. At the course’s end, instructors work to help students find jobs, helping them prepare resumes and locating potential employers.
Hounds for Heroes, the Alliance’s newest program, trains shelter dogs to be companions for persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), especially US veterans. Dogs are typically about 18 months old and carefully selected for temperament, including their ability to be the neutral with other dogs, friendly with all types of people, comfortable when handled a lot and the ability to remain calm when something new or exciting happens around them.
In September 2014, the program celebrated its first success story when Debi and her team provided “Piper,” a chocolate Labrador from Heart of Texas Lab Rescue to Allen Grice, an Afghanistan veteran suffering from PSTD. While Piper’s training took over 1000 hours, Allen received her free of charge, thanks to the Alliance’s Hounds for Heroes fundraising effort. The Alliance’s goal is to make every PSTD dog they offer available at low or no cost to each veteran eligible to receive one.
“Providing Piper to Allen was very rewarding,” says Debi. “Allen had served in a high combat area in Afghanistan. He says he thought that because he came home with ten fingers and ten toes that he would be ok, but in reality, he has PTSD. It was difficult to sleep without medication, to socialize in groups or withstand loud environments, for instance. He approached us saying that he’s always liked dogs and that if he had a best friend, someone who could watch his back, it would make a big difference in his life.
“We selected him to receive a service dog and trained Piper for about six months. When Allen arrived to pick her up, we spent another 30 hours over the course of five days getting them acquainted and teaching Allen how to work with Piper in varying environments to make sure they were a perfect team. When they were ready, we accompanied them to the airport and all the way to the gate to make sure they got on the plane safely.
“On the way to the gate, we encountered a bomb dog, which started misbehaving and barking. Piper, however, was perfect, staying calm and attentive to Allen. I got a call from Allen a few days later saying that they could not be happier. Since bringing Piper home, he has not needed a sleeping pill, and if he has a bad dream, he can count on Piper to be there, right next to him. They’re a perfect match.”