The Dog Alliance trains service dogs through free program for veterans

Executive Director Debi Krakar founded The Dog Alliance in 2006. The nonprofit started training service dogs such as Tessa for veterans and first responders with disabilities in 2012. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Executive Director Debi Krakar founded The Dog Alliance in 2006. The nonprofit started training service dogs such as Tessa for veterans and first responders with disabilities in 2012. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Executive Director Debi Krakar founded The Dog Alliance in 2006. The nonprofit started training service dogs such as Tessa for veterans and first responders with disabilities in 2012. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

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A service dog must demonstrate it can focus on their owner without getting distracted before they can graduate from the Hounds for Heroes program. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Through fundraising, the Dog Alliance is able to keep its Hounds for Heroes program free of charge. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Susan Windham joined The Dog Alliance in 2007 and is the director of the Hounds for Heroes program where she trains service dogs such as Panini. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
When Debi Krakar, executive director and founder of The Dog Alliance, took her golden retriever, Riley, out in public over a decade ago people would flock to them and socialize. After seeing how much good Riley can do in people’s lives, Krakar created The Dog Alliance with a vision to help others train their dogs to do good as well, Krakar said.

When The Dog Alliance was founded in 2006 the nonprofit launched its Bow Wow Reading Dog program. Riley was the nonprofit's first therapy dog and Krakar took her into an elementary school class to spend time with the kids as she read stories to them. It took four months to get a principal to give the initial green light, Krakar said.

“At that time it was pretty radical to have a dog come into a school and read with kids,” Krakar said. “After a few weeks, [the principal] started telling all of her principal friends about how amazing it was that these kids would sit down with Riley. There was a kid with [ADHD] who just sat down next to her and started petting and you could just see him relax and not want to get up.”

Soon after, the nonprofit began going into nursing homes and hospitals with therapy dogs to help kids with autism, Krakar said. A lot of people took notice and started asking if the nonprofit could train its dogs to help individuals with PTSD, Krakar said. The nonprofit began training its first service dog through the Hounds for Heroes program in 2012 to help veterans and first responders with mental and physical disabilities free of charge.

Around 50 first responders and veterans have been served through Hounds for Heroes, Kraker said. Currently, the program has 19 dogs in the field and another 21 in training. It takes 18 to 22 months to fully train a service dog, Krakar said.


“[2012] was just the beginning [for dogs] to be accepted in the mainstream as a possible modality for helping with PTSD,” Krakar said. “Because we had all that background in working with therapy dogs it wasn’t that big of a leap to go into training service dogs for PTSD.”

The nonprofit gives individuals a choice to match up with a dog it has trained or for the individual to bring in their own dog to undergo training. The main thing that matters when people bring in their own dog is the temperament of the dog, Kraker said.

“I need a dog that is quiet in public, is receptive to people touching them, isn’t trying to guard their owner, and can focus on their owner even when there are lots of distractions,” Kraker said. “We need a dog that enjoys that kind of thing and doesn’t mind their environment changing every day.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is making fundraising and service dog training difficult for the nonprofit. A major part of the Hounds for Heroes program is socializing the dogs from birth if possible and it is hard to do so while social distancing, Krakar said. The nonprofit is currently looking for people to raise puppies and train them for 18 months.

“It’s the ultimate gift of giving to put all that work into a dog and then give it to someone else,” Krakar said.

The Dog Alliance/Hounds for Heroes

1321 W. New Hope Drive, Cedar Park

Note: Staff is only on-site for pre-scheduled appointments, classes and private lessons.

www.thedogalliance.org
By Trent Thompson

Reporter, Austin Metro

Trent joined Community Impact Newspaper as an intern in May 2021 after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, Austin in December 2020. In July 2021, he was promoted to Austin Metro reporter. He covers several news beats from education and government to dining, transportation, nonprofits, and healthcare. However, his primary beat is business and development. Before working at CI, Trent wrote for The Daily Texan, UT's daily student newspaper, and worked on many projects of his own for his undergraduate program. In his free time Trent writes poetry, spends time with loved ones, and watches Star Wars for the hundredth time, including other new movies.



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