Austin Dog Alliance Will Use Therapy Dogs to Teach Job Skills to Youth with Disabilities.

Austin Dog Alliance "K9 Club Careers with Dogs" will focus on job training for youth with disabilities. Program awarded funding by Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

Even in times of low unemployment, persons with disabilities are among those least likely to be hired, often for the lack of social and job skills. That's why, on September 20, the non-profit Austin Dog Alliance will begin offering classes for youth aged 15-19 with disabilities that focus on preparing for employment and exploring dog-related employment options. K9 Club Careers with Dogs will be eligible for funding by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) for DARS participants who are lacking the social skills needed to find employment. The classes also will be available to the public.

According the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person with a disability is almost twice as likely to be unemployed as a person with no disability. The Alliance is trying to improve those odds by capitalizing on many youths' love of animals.

"Job training for young people with disabilities is vital," says Krakar. "We'll be teaching them proper animal handling, basic grooming, dog body language and many of the social skills needed to acquire and maintain a job. The aim is to give them skills that can open the doors to work at shelters, veterinarian offices and other animal-care facilities.

The Alliance has helped place one former social-skills student already. Cassie Russell will begin working at Cypress Creek Pet Care this fall. Cassie's mother, Jennifer Russell, calls her employment a "gift from God."

"As a parent of a child with a disability, you wonder, 'Will she be able to support herself?'" says Russell. "So after Cassie graduated from the Alliance's social skills class for kids with autism, the Alliance connected us with Cypress Creek Pet Care, where she began volunteering right away."

After two years of assisting with dog care and observing teeth cleanings, surgeries and other vet duties, Cassie was asked to report for paid employment in September.

"We feel very fortunate to have Cassie join us," says Dr. Raymond Bouloy, Cypress Creek Pet Care veterinarian and Chief Operating Officer. "She will be assisting with instrument sterilization and a variety of other vet tech duties. But she's also brought such joy to our office. She's like family."

Showing its support for the Alliance's work with youth, Cypress Creek Pet Care also has loaned unused veterinary office space to the Alliance for use in their programs until the Alliance's new facility is built in Cedar Park in early 2013.

"This is just the beginning," says Krakar. "Once we move into our permanent home next spring, we plan to expand our current programs and add veterinary technician, groomer and kennel assistant training certification programs for young adults on the autism spectrum and other at-risk teens."

K9 Club Careers with Dogs is being taught in association with a Cedar Park behavior therapy center. Those interested in learning more about Austin Dog Alliance's classes should contact the Austin Dog Alliance at 512-335-7100.

Media Contact:
Debi Krakar
Executive Director, Austin Dog Alliance
12129 RR 620 North, Suite 401
Austin, TX 78750
Office: 512.335.7100
Cell: 512.576.8300