by Jan Spence –
On a recent crisp and sunny day, a cadre of Seeds of Strength dog lovers were greeted by team Rocco, a big black and white Pyrenees/Aussie mix and his human owner/handler Shelly Moreno, and by team Remi, a petite Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and her owner/handler Wendy Moosavi. Rocco and Remi appreciated our petting and responded with nuzzles and lots of tail wagging – but NO barking or jumping. They were so well-behaved because they have been through the Bow Wow Therapy Training at The Dog Alliance, a remarkable facility on New Hope Road in Cedar Park.
We were also received by the Executive Director of The Dog Alliance, Debi Krakar, a small but mighty force of nature. Debi began what is now The Dog Alliance out of her home in 2006 with a focus on therapeutic programs for families and individuals that harness the powerful connection between canines and humans. From that humble, grassroots beginning, Debi’s leadership and vision transformed The Dog Alliance into an expansive seven-acre facility which includes spacious buildings for meetings and training, as well as outdoor training facilities.
The Dog Alliance offers the Hounds for Heroes program, which provides Service Dogs to veterans who have issues with PTSD or who experience mobility challenges. The canines in this program are classified as assistance dogs and require a high standard of training. Debi and her staff screen shelter dogs for temperament and begin to train them at a young age. A veteran can also opt to train his or her own dog.
Another offering is the Bow Wow Therapy program that provides training, placement, and ongoing support to volunteer handler and dog therapy teams. The Dog Alliance received a $10,000 grant from SoS this year for this program. Our grant dollars will pay for staff as they recruit and train volunteer teams to expand the program more fully into the Georgetown area, which is currently underserved. As the Georgetown trainings continue, the Bow Wow Therapy program anticipates serving approximately 2000 individuals. Think of it. That’s 2000 lives positively impacted because of their relationship with these dogs. After all, who doesn’t feel better just from burying fingers in soft fur and watching a tail wag?
Soon you may see teams like Wendy and Remi or Shelly and Rocco bringing comfort to patients in our hospitals or seniors in our nursing homes. These dedicated volunteer teams will also listen to at-risk readers in local elementary schools (yes, reading scores go up), motivate patients during physical rehabilitation, and comfort children as they testify in family court. Time is ticking, according to Debi, because there is a waiting list of facilities that want to utilize the services of a Bow Wow Therapy team.
These services obviously require highly-trained dogs and handlers. Human-canine teams are screened for temperament to ensure they enjoy social interaction, remain relaxed when unexpected noises or movement occurs or when conditions become crowded. Once the team has been deemed of the right temperament, then training can begin. Both dog and handler are rigorously trained to provide therapy specific to the complexity at a given site: predictable, complex, or complex plus.
Predictable sites for therapy might include nursing homes, school reading programs, and hospice visits. Complex sites typically involve groups of people, perhaps other dogs, and a variety of sights and smells. Complex plus environments require additional training and serve special-needs groups and mental-health hospitals. All of these teams require dedicated humans and dogs!
Thanks to Debi Krakar’s vision and passion, thousands of people in the Central Texas Area are being “rescued” by our furry canine friends each year. Seeds of Strength is very proud to be a part of it.