Non-Profit Takes “Dogged” Approach to Job Training for Youth With Disabilities


Austin, TX – 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 will be taught in association with a Cedar Park behavioral therapy center. Those interested in learning more about Austin Dog Alliance’s classes should contact the Austin Dog Alliance at 512-335-7100.

About Austin Dog Alliance
Located in Austin, Texas, the Austin Dog Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, provides unique group social skills development programs for children with autism spectrum disorder that incorporate the use of canine-assisted therapy. Austin Dog Alliance also provides handler-dog teams to local hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes, as well as schools and libraries through its Bow Wow Reading Dog program.

The Austin Dog Alliance’s “Build Our Forever Home Capital Campaign” is raising $1.57 million to build a permanent facility in Cedar Park in 2013. Staff members from O’Connell Robertson, Land Interactive and Big Red Dog Engineering volunteered their time to design the site and buildings, and the firms donated the plans. Other firms donating services include Acuity, Murray & Associates, Legacy Lighting, Hicks Construction, ARA Land and others.

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